President Obama today repeated his call for America to have the best broadband service in the world—but innovation had to share time with Egypt, as the popular uprising seemed headed for its most tumultuous day yet.
“We are following today’s events in Egypt very closely. And we’ll have more to say as this plays out, but what is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold,” Obama told the audience at Northern Michigan University. “We want all Egyptians to know Americans will continue do everything that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt.”
Turning to the planned speech, the president quoted President Kennedy as he unveiled his National Wireless Initiative and called on America to ensure its first-place standing in the world.
"'I do not mean first, but,'" Obama said, quoting Kennedy. "'I do not mean first, when. I do not mean first, if. I mean first—period.'"
The president chose the campus in Marquette, Mich., because it's well-wired and serves as an appropriate backdrop to elaborate on his plans to bring wireless access to 98 percent of the country within five years. He is also proposing to build a national public safety broadband network, and promote wireless innovation and research and development.
Obama portrayed widely available wireless Internet as a natural next step for the United States, which built railroads and spread the availability of electricity to help make the nation economically competitive. As in his State of the Union speech, he noted the innovation of an up-and-coming nation: South Korea. During that speech, he spoke of the country’s commitment to teachers, whom they call “nation builders.” Today, he noted that more than 90 percent of homes in South Korea have access to high-speed broadband, compared to 65 percent of households in the United States.
“We cannot expect tomorrow’s economy to take root using yesterday’s infrastructure. We’ve got to think about what’s the next thing, what’s the next big thing, and make sure we’re at the forefront, just like we were in the last century. Today’s new companies are going to seek out the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information—whether they’re in Shanghai or Chicago,” Obama said. “So if we want new jobs and businesses in America, we’ve got to have the best transportation and communication network in the world.”
He offered another reference, this one the signature line from the movie Field of Dreams. “If we build it, they will come.”
The initiative is projected to bring about $27 billion in revenue into the federal government through Federal Communications Commission incentive auctions to get broadcasters to give up some of their airwaves for a portion of auction proceeds. That money will be used to pay for the wireless initiative—$5 billion for a one-time boost to the Universal Service Fund, $3 billion for wireless research and development, and $10.7 billion for a public safety network—with $9.6 billion left over for deficit reduction.
Still, the president acknowledged the appetite for cutting spending in the country. “Government has to start doing what American families do every day: We have to live within our means. But even as we do so, we cannot sacrifice our future... we’ve got to cut out the equivalents of eating out and vacations.”
He said that America has a “responsibility” to innovation, education, and infrastructure.