In his January state of the union address President Obama said that “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.” He was explaining that our country is losing the international battle on the innovation front. But just like America landed on the moon and surpassed the Soviets, who were first to launch a satellite into space in 1957, Obama is hoping that this country will again propel forward by leaps and bounds by taking winning steps towards wireless innovation.
The president made the first of many leaps last Thursday when he spoke at the Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan where he announced details of the Whitehouse’s plans to expand wireless coverage to 98% of Americans with access to 4G high-speed wireless.
According to the president, 90% of homes in South Korea subscribe to high-speed broadband (defined by the Federal Communications Commission as a minimum download speed of 4 megabits per second and upload speeds of 1 mbps), yet only 65 percent of households here in America, where the internet was created, can say the same. This is the case because our broadband infrastructure has fallen behind as wireless providers do not expand into rural areas unless it is profitable for them. Upgrading will require freeing up space on the broadband spectrum, which is currently too constrained for future innovation.
“We’re going to have to out-hustle the rest of the world,” he said. “That means investing in cutting-edge research and technology…this is a new century, and we can’t expect tomorrow’s economy to take root using yesterday’s infrastructure.”
The National Wireless Initiative plan will catalyze private investments into the system by auctioning off the pieces of the government and commercial spectrum and free up 500 Megahertz of the airwaves. The White House claims that doing this will double the wireless spectrum and will reduce the deficit by $9.6 billion.
The plan will also create a $3 billion Wireless Innovation Fund to spur research and development of emerging wireless technologies and applications. In addition, Obama committed $10.7 billion toward developing a nationwide, interoperable wireless network for public safety.
As a result, the new network will help police officers access crime databases in their cars, allow firefighters to download blueprints on the way to a burning building, and let public works officials monitor pumps and equipment remotely thereby saving money in the long run.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has already taken steps to make good on that commitment. The agency has identified 115 MHz of federal spectrum that can be freed up as part of a “fast track” process for exclusive or shared use. They’ve also selected another 95 MHz of valuable spectrum for immediate evaluation, and has a plan in place to evaluate other federal spectrum bands that can be used more efficiently.
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