A View from Erica Naone

Obama's Call for Wireless

Reactions to Obama’s proposed wireless plan lean towards the skeptical.

  • February 11, 2011

Yesterday, President Barack Obama laid out a vision for how to greatly increase wireless access in the United States. A White House release summarizes the plan point by point, but the crux of the proposal is that Obama hopes to bring high-speed wireless access to 98 percent of Americans within five years. His plan, he says, could do this while reducing the deficit by just shy of $10 billion.

The key will be getting owners of underutilized spectrum to give that wireless real estate back to the government, so that it can then auction it to other providers. The hope is that current owners will give up the spectrum voluntarily.

Arik Hesseldahl at All Things Digital praises the plan, writing that it’s vital to bring Internet access to a broader segment of the population:

It’s unfortunate that in 2011 the country that gave birth to the Internet hasn’t yet found a way to extend its many benefits to every sector of its population.

During the past several weeks we’ve seen the power of the Internet brought to bear in Egypt, where what’s been widely called the Facebook Revolution seems on the cusp of toppling President Hosni Mubarak. It was Mubarak who shocked the world by cutting his country off from the Internet, and it so irritated people both inside and outside Egypt that they banded together to find ways around the digital curtain he tried to erect around his borders. The same chain of events has turned a humble Google marketing exec into a national hero.

However, there could be hiccups in getting it implemented. Aside from possible difficulties involved with getting owners to give up spectrum, the New York Times warns that Obama will face political hurdles:

The plan, which will be included in the budget Mr. Obama releases next week, requires Congressional approval at a time when Republicans have said they are interested in cutting federal spending.

And Ars Technica questions whether access is really the problem:

Free Press research director S. Derek Turner notes that “according to the FCC’s own data, 98 percent of households in the United States already have access to wireless broadband service, while less than one-third subscribe to it.” Nothing in the plan encourages them to adopt it, Turner said.

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