President Barack Obama greets the audience Thursday at Northern Michigan...

President Barack Obama greets the audience Thursday at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich. (Feb. 10, 2011) Credit: MCT

MARQUETTE, Mich. - President Barack Obama promoted plans yesterday to bring high-speed wireless to nearly all American households, pushing his domestic agenda in a small, snowy city in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Obama spoke at Northern Michigan University on the importance of investing in wireless technology, part of a new White House focus on innovation, competitiveness and infrastructure as a pathway to jobs and "winning the future."

The president compared the goal of extending wireless access to important successes that connected previous generations of Americans: the building of railroads and the federal highway system.

"For millions of Americans, the railway hasn't shown up yet," Obama said. "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 investments and new jobs."

Obama wants to make high-speed wireless available to 98 percent of the population within five years, a goal he set out in his State of the Union address.

It's a lofty aim considering such technology is only now being built in major cities by AT&T, Verizon and others. And it will cost billions of dollars that Republicans now running the House signaled they may be unwilling to spend. But the president cast it as crucial for America's future prosperity and competitiveness with other nations.

"This isn't just about faster Internet," the president said. "It's about connecting every corner of America to the digital age."

Obama has taken a domestic trip each week since the Jan. 25 speech to promote different aspects of his competitiveness agenda; previous trips focused on high-speed rail and energy efficiency.

Obama's wireless plan involves increasing the space available on the airwaves for high-speed wireless 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.

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