Administrations since the Clinton era have largely ignored the benefits and accessibility of “information superhighway”, as the internet was popularly referred to at the time. On February 10 2011 President Obama announced the National Wireless Initiative. Under the initiative 98% of Americans will have access to next-generation wireless coverage, referred to as the 4G network.
During his speech, the President explained that 90% of South Koreans subscribe to high-speed broadband – high-speed internet access – yet only 65% of households in America have the same level of access. The President did not go into details about pricing – critics of the plan state that while more than 98% of households may have access to high-speed internet, access is expensive in rural and other under serviced areas, making high-speed internet access less affordable when compared to the monthly subscription fees people in urban areas pay.
The National Wireless Initiative calls for private-public partnerships for building wireless infrastructure. The federal government will make a contribution of $5 billion to an FCC Universal Service fund whose mandate is to subsidize building wireless infrastructure in rural and other remote areas where wireless providers would otherwise not have provided service as a result of poor prospects for profitability. Organizations that receive funding from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund would, in exchange for access to funding, would contribute to building facilities and capabilities that are interoperable with public safety networks. The high-speed public safety network is one of the the 9/11 Commission’s key proposals.
Funding for the public safety network, a current price tag of $11 billion, will come from the sale of about 500Mhz of spectrum space – spectrum space is the allocation of radio frequencies, through licensing, to wireless and cable providers for the right to broadcast using radio waves. Cable TV and government agencies currently use radio frequencies, yet this plan would see them move out of this space all-together to free up the spectrum space – which is limited – for wireless services like 3G and 4G networks. Current holders of licenses in the 500Mhz spectrum space would give up their licenses – essentially their lifeline to be able to broadcast their signal in America – in exchange for a percentage of the sale price. The providers that release their licenses already have licenses for the newer spectrums in the next-generation wireless network spectrum spaces.
An additional $3 billion raised from the sale of spectrum space would be allocated to the Wireless Innovation fund to develop and test energy, healthcare, and educational mobile technologies.
The President, in his speech, likened access to high-speed wireless access to the availability of electricity across the nation. He said that electricity made a difference in everyone’s life once everyone had access to electricity, including those in rural or less populated areas. He described the benefits of high-speed wireless access as providing economic opportunities to everyone in America, including those in rural communities where people would not have to move out of their hometown to reap the benefits of new opportunities across the nation.
President Obama closed his speech – “Time and again, whether westward or skyward, with each rail and road that we’ve laid, in every community, we’ve connected with our own science and imagination, and we forged anew our faith the we can do anything. We do big things. That’s who we are.”