Obama to Outline High-Speed Wireless Plan Thursday in Michigan

Broadband's Impact, Education, Health, Mobile Broadband, National Broadband Plan, Public Safety, Spectrum, Wireless February 10th, 2011

, Managing Editor, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON, February 10, 2011 – President Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech at Northern Michigan University, Thursday, detailing his plan to catalyze his State of the Union pledge to deliver wireless Internet to 98 percent of Americans within five years.

In addition to spurring businesses to reach the 98 percent goal, the administration’s Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative (WIII) aims to free up radio spectrum to alleviate an impending spectrum crunch, create a nationwide interoperable wireless network for public safety and drive innovation in the wireless broadband sector.

The President will deliver his speech in Marquette, a town in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where businesses have found success as a result of their access to broadband networks.  He will also see a demonstration of Northern Michigan University’s WiMAX-enabled distance learning program.

To reach the 98 percent goal, the President is expected to propose a $5 billion investment in Fourth Generation – commonly known as “4G” – wireless network infrastructure build out in rural areas.  Additionally, this investment is intended to facilitate the establishment of a nationwide interoperable public safety network, spur the development of higher-speed wired and wireless networks, and extend currently-available 3G wireless service from 95 percent of Americans to 98 percent.

With the accelerating growth of radio traffic from wireless devices such as smartphones and wireless networking devices, experts anticipate that traffic will soon outstrip the airwaves capacity to transmit that traffic, causing a “spectrum crunch.”  In response, the administration, through the National Broadband Plan (NBP) unveiled last March, vowed to free up 500Mhz of spectrum – nearly double that currently available – to alleviate the potential glut.

The administration’s plan to free up spectrum is composed of a two-fold approach.  First, it intends to use advancing technologies to help government agencies make more efficient use of spectrum.  Second, the NBP recommends so-called “voluntary incentive auctions,” whereby the government offers private licensees of spectrum financial incentives to voluntarily give up some of their unused spectrum for re-auction to wireless internet carriers.  The administration anticipates raising a projected $27.8 billion through these auctions, after incentives are paid to current licensees.

The plan also calls for investment in a nationwide interoperable public safety network, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission more than 7 years ago.  The Federal Communications Commission has been steadily working toward the rules for such a network for some time and just last month established Long Term Evolution (LTE) – one version of a 4G network – as an operating standard.  The WIII would dedicate $10.7 billion toward building the network, including $7 billion to build out the physical network, $500 million for research and development and $3.2 billion to reallocate the D-block for exclusive public safety use.

The D-block is a segment of spectrum in the 700Mhz range – considered prime real estate for mobile broadband use – that the FCC attempted to auction off in 2008, but bids failed to meet the Commission’s reserve price.  Currently, the swath is allocated for use by public safety, however, Congress is expected to consider competing plans, one to re-auction the D-block to commercial licensees to share with public safety and another to reallocate it primarily to public safety.

The administration only recently threw its support behind reallocating the D-block to public safety, an about face from the NBP recommendation that the swath be re-auctioned to raise a budgeted $2.5 billion and help contribute to the spectrum crunch solution.  Regardless of the administration’s recommendation, Congress holds the power to determine the fate of the D-block through legislative action.

The final piece of the plan includes a $3 billion investment in a Wireless Innovation (WIN) Fund, which will support research and development of technologies to take advantage of the 4G rollout in areas such as public safety, education, energy, health, transportation and economic development.

Overall, the administration projects that in addition to updating the nation’s broadband infrastructure, the plan will also reduce the deficit by $9.6 billion over the next 10 years.

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