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The President on the National Wireless Initiative: "We’re Going to Have to Up Our Game, Marquette"

The President announces his plan to expand wireless coverage to 98% of Americans, while reducing deficit by nearly $10 billion by making more government spectrum available.

Speaking at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan, the President took a moment at the top of his remarks to express support for Egyptians who continue their protests, saying "we want those young people and we want all Egyptians to know America will continue to do everything that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt."  He added that "as we watch what’s taking place, we’re also reminded that we live in an interconnected world," and that was the purpose of the President's visit to the school, which has embraced high-speed wireless services and in doing so served as a model for the what the future of America could look like.

President Obama Teleconferences With Students in Michigan

President Barack Obama speaks via teleconference to a group of students 20 miles away at Negaunee High School during a distance learning demonstration at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., February 10, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

As the President laid out in his State of the Union, our winning the future will depend on innovation, education, responsibility, reform, and rebuilding America's infrastructure for the 21st Century -- and that's what his National Wireless Initiative would do.  As the President explained today, his plan would expand wireless coverage to 98% of Americans, while reducing the deficit by nearly $10 billion by making more government spectrum available:

For our families and our businesses, high-speed wireless service, that’s the next train station; it’s the next off-ramp.  It’s how we’ll spark new innovation, new investment, new jobs. 

And you know this here in Northern Michigan.  That’s why I showed up, in addition to it being pretty and people being nice.  (Laughter and applause.)  For decades now, this university has given a new laptop to every incoming student.  Wi-Fi stretched across campus.  But if you lived off-campus, like most students and teachers here, you were largely out of luck.  Broadband was often too expensive to afford.  And if you lived a bit further out of town, you were completely out of luck, because broadband providers, they often won’t build networks where it’s not profitable, just like they wouldn’t build electrical lines where it wasn’t profitable.

So this university tried something new.  You partnered with various companies to build a high-speed, next-generation wireless network.  And you managed to install it with six people in only four days without raising tuition.  Good job.  Good job, Mr. President.  (Applause.)  By the way, if you give me the name of these six people -- (laughter) -- there’s a whole bunch of stuff in Washington I’d like to see done in four days with six people.  (Laughter.) 

So today, this is one of America’s most connected universities, and enrollment is near the highest it’s been in 30 years.

And what’s more -- and this is what makes this special -- you told nearby towns that if they allowed you to retrofit their towers with new equipment to expand your network, then their schools, their first responders, their city governments could use it too.  And as a result, police officers can access crime databases in their cars.  And firefighters can download blueprints on the way to a burning building.  And public works officials can save money by monitoring pumps and equipment remotely. 

And you’ve created new online learning opportunities for K-12 students as far as 30 miles away, some of whom -- (applause) -- some of whom can’t always make it to school in a place that averages 200 inches of snow a year.  (Laughter and applause.)  Now, some of these students don’t appreciate the end of school [snow] days.  I know Malia and Sasha get really excited about school [snow] days.  Of course, in Washington things shut down when there’s an inch of snow.  (Laughter.)  But this technology is giving them more opportunity.  It’s good for their education, it’s good for our economy.  In fact, I just came from a demonstration of online learning in action.  We were with Professor Lubig and he had plugged in Negaunee High School -- (applause) -- and Powell Township School in Big Bay.  (Applause.)  So I felt like the guy in Star Trek.  I was being beamed around -- (laughter) -- across the Upper Peninsula here.  But it was remarkable to see the possibilities for these young people who are able to, let’s say, do a chemistry experiment, and they can compare the results with kids in Boston.

Or if there’s some learning tool or material they don’t have immediately accessible in their school, they can connect here to the university, and they’re able to tap into it. 

It’s opening up an entire world to them.  And one of the young people who I was talking to, he talked about foreign policy and what we were seeing in places like Egyptian.  And he said, what’s amazing especially for us is that now we have a window to the entire world, and we can start understanding other cultures and other places in ways that we could never do without this technology.

For local businesses, broadband access is helping them grow and prosper and compete in a global economy. 

President Obama Meets Workers in Michigan

President Barack Obama greets the employees during a stop at Donkers candy store and restaurant in Marquette, Mich., February 10, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)