Readers offered many insightful responses to a column I wrote last month regarding Sprint Nextel’s request to the Obama administration for federal funding that would let a commercial operator like Sprint provide first responders with an interoperable wireless communications network capable of responding to emergencies anywhere in the U.S. within four hours.

One of the readers I heard from was a Sprint spokesman who commented that I had incorrectly indicated the company was seeking a grant. It is in fact proposing a competitive bid process that could be won by any operator.

Armed with $2 billion from the federal government, Sprint would use fleets of trucks equipped with satellite backhaul and pre-programmed push-to-talk mobile devices to provide interoperable communications. I had indicated Sprint’s approach might be a good interim solution but that it serves as another band-aid to the serious interoperability problem facing the nation’s first responders. Our nation’s public-safety community needs a long-term, permanent solution.

I’m sharing some of the thought-provoking comments I received about Sprint’s proposal. Some readers took issue with me for even suggesting that Sprint’s idea might be an interim solution to the interoperability problem. But from talking to public-safety folks about this, it is clear that interoperability bridges have their own limitations—they take time to set up and end users aren’t very familiar with the radios that are only used during emergency situations that require interoperability.

That said, here is a sampling of the comments I received, edited for length:

“No, No, No. No. Did I mention NO? We already have thousands of interoperability bridges. I don't need something else that I have to wait for. Sprint is offering me nothing that I don't already have. The only people that might think this is a good idea, even as an interim solution, is one that has no real public-safety experience. No, a thousand times NO.”

“I think Sprint-Nextel shouldn't be given any handouts. Their lack of support for their iDEN push-to-talk (P2T) line was, in my opinion, a poor business choice. I work in public safety (fire and USAR), and use Nextel both for work and for personal use. Many of my friends, co-workers, and family members left Nextel for Verizon because of coverage problems, poor customer service, and ultimately, price. We have the ability to employ portable repeaters to provide adequate coverage for our portable radios at incidents. I foresee using them more frequently, and likely phasing out our Nextel equipment in the not too distant future. I will likely also switch to Verizon in the near future, unless Nextel significantly steps up its coverage, customer service, and pricing plans very soon. The Feds should utilize available funding for an always-available, better managed, better supported, and broadband-capable communications solution.”

“Maybe a better approach would be for the federal government to buy the iDEN network. [or] let Sprint move off all non-public safety users to its 3G P2T network, keep public safety that is already there on the iDEN network and set up a billing entity to bill the public-safety users a reasonable amount based on level of service (P2T-only, voice, broadband, etc.). If 700 MHz ever happens for public safety, it would be easy to merge the two since several manufacturers already make 800/700 equipment.”

It should be noted that it is possible iDEN won’t be the technology platform chosen for the interoperability network being proposed by Sprint. To wit, here’s an excerpt from spokesman John Taylor’s response to my column: “In our recommendation submitted to the Obama administration, we did not make any mention of what kind of technology the government should use. It could be GSM, CDMA or iDEN or something else. We didn't say.”

Taylor also pointed out that Nextel’s nationwide P2T is the number one choice for public safety and has been for many years.

“In fact, more than 3 million public safety organizations use Nextel -- more than any other wireless network. In addition, both the Nextel and Sprint wireless networks are performing at best-ever levels,” he said. “That was the case here in Washington, D.C., where we supported communications for the Obama inauguration. Our data indicates that our Nextel customers (and Sprint customers, too) were extremely well served during this important moment in our country's history.”

In closing, I’d like to thank all of the readers who responded to my column for their insights.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.