Obama promotes plans for wireless expansion

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Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama makes remarks at the US Chamber of Commerce on Feburary 7, 2011 in Washington, DC.

President Barack Obama wants nearly all Americans to have access to speedy wireless services. He's promoting that plan in a small city in Michigan that's becoming a model for how the Internet can bring prosperity to far-flung places.

Obama on Thursday heads to Marquette, Mich., a university and tourism town of 20,000 overlooking Lake Superior that cherishes both its geographical remoteness and technological savvy. He'll see high-tech wireless initiatives in action at Northern Michigan University, where students telecommute, and talk about the plan in his State of the Union address to expand access to high-speed wireless to 98 percent of the population within five years.

It's a lofty goal considering such technology is only now being built in major cities by AT&T, Verizon and others. And it costs billions of dollars that Republicans probably will be unwilling to spend. But it's all part of Obama's new focus on innovation, technology and competitiveness as a pathway to jobs and "winning the future" - the new White House mantra.

Thursday's visit also takes Obama to a largely conservative area of a state that will be important in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Obama's wireless plan involves nearly doubling the space available on the airwaves for wireless high-speed Internet traffic to keep up with ever-growing demand. This would be accomplished in part by auctioning off space on the radio spectrum to commercial wireless carriers. The White House says this would raise nearly $30 billion over 10 years, and the money could be spent on initiatives that include $10 billion to develop a national broadband network for public safety agencies and $5 billion for infrastructure to help rural areas access high-speed wireless. Additional money could be used to reduce the deficit, the White House says.

It's all conditioned on congressional approval, and the proposals may get cold-shouldered by the Republicans who now control the House and have made clear they want to decrease spending in most areas, not go along with the targeted increases in areas like infrastructure and education that the president is pursuing.

Portions of the plan will be included in the 2012 budget proposal Obama comes out with next week.

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Associated Press writers Joelle Tessler in Washington and John Flesher in Marquette, Mich., contributed to this report.

© 2011 The Associated Press.

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