Before adopting its controversial net neutrality order, the Federal Communications Commission also approved a proposal to seek comment on a "next-generation" 9-1-1 system that would utilize the latest technologies including text messaging and video in emergency response.
The order, approved on a unanimous vote, asks for comment on a number of issues surrounding the launch of a next-generation 9-1-1 service. They include technical feasibility and limitations of text messaging, video streaming and photos; an examination of consumer privacy issues including the need to protect personal medical data; and development of technical and policy standards.
The FCC said that 70 percent of 9-1-1 calls come from mobile phones. But FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski noted that if you are in an "emergency situation and want to send a text for help you can pretty much text anyone except a 9-1-1 call center."
One real-life example of how this limitation may have hampered law enforcement's efforts to respond to an emergency occurred during the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University in 2007, according to Genachowski. He said several students had tried to send a text to 9-1-1 seeking help during the rampage but those messages did not go through.
"It is time to bring 9-1-1 into the digital age," Genachowski said. "Broadband-enabled next generation 9-1-1 will revolutionize emergency response."
While expressing support for upgrading 9-1-1 call centers, the FCC's GOP members said the commission should examine ways for local 9-1-1 centers to obtain the funding for such technology advancements.