President Obama spent some time on Michigan's Upper Peninsula on Thursday to promote his administration's National Wireless Initiative, a project first mentioned in last month's State of the Union address to make available high-speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of U.S. residents. The president's speech at Northern Michigan University in Marquette revealed few new details about the initiative; in fact much of the information was presented at a White House briefing in late June. The event was more an opportunity for him to promote a plan through which the government hopes to raise $27.8 billion over the next decade via the sale of wireless spectrum space, with about one-third of those proceeds going to help pay down the national debt.
Obama opened his remarks by assuring those listening that his administration is watching the most recent developments in Egypt—as rumors ran rampant about President Hosni Mubarak's possible resignation. Obama tied his comments about Egypt's very public "moment of transformation" to the impact that broadband Internet connections and wireless technology are having on society, saying, "As we watch we are reminded that we live in an interconnected world." The president wants to deliver that interconnected world to a larger portion of this country, noting that only 65 percent of U.S. households have a high-speed Internet connection. A few studies from last year put that number at 75 percent or greater.
Beyond simply enabling broadband, the National Wireless Initiative proposes a $10.7 billion investment to benefit first responders, including $3.2 billion to reallocate and reserve a band of spectrum that would be prioritized for public safety use rather than being auctioned off for commercial use. This investment also includes $7 billion to support the deployment of the network and $500 million from a wireless innovation fund for R&D and technological development to tailor the network to meet public safety requirements. The initiative also calls for a $5 billion investment to implement 4G wireless networks in rural areas.
The president hopes to free up 500 MHz of spectrum in the next decade (much of it within the next five years) that can be used by the rapidly expanding number of smart phones and laptops vying for wireless Internet connectivity. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has identified 115 MHz of federal spectrum thus far that can be freed up for exclusive or shared use and is evaluating another 95 MHz of spectrum to see if that can likewise be made available for non-governmental uses.
Image courtesy of Alberto Pomares, via iStockphot.com