MARQUETTE (WWJ/AP) – President Obama, during a visit to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, opened his address with remarks about the events unfolding in Egypt.
Speaking to an invite-only crowd at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, the President said the moment of transformation is made possible by the people of Egypt who are calling for change.
“They’ve turned out in extraordinary number, representing all ages and all walks of life. But, it’s young people who’ve been at the forefront. A new generation, your generation, who want their voices to be heard,” Obama said.
Obama spoke Thursday as unrest continued in Egypt amid reports that longtime authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak was about to give in to the demands of protesters and bring his 30-year reign to an end. Obama addressed the situation briefly at the top of his remarks, saying history was unfolding in Egypt and that the United States continues to support an orderly transition to democracy there.
More to the purpose of his visit, the President saw high-tech wireless initiatives at NMU and promoted his plan to bring high-speed wireless to 98 percent of the U.S. within five years.
Obama’s wireless plan involves nearly doubling the space available on the airwaves for wireless high-speed Internet traffic to keep up with ever-growing demand. This would be accomplished in part 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. Additional money could be used to reduce the deficit, the White House says.
It’s all conditioned on congressional approval, and the proposals may get cold-shouldered by the Republicans who now control the House and have made clear they want to decrease spending in most areas, not go along with the targeted increases in areas like infrastructure, education and innovation that the president is pursuing as a pathway to jobs and “winning the future” – the newest White House mantra.
“It’s just like that movie, ‘Field of Dreams:’ If we build it, they will come,” Obama said.
Obama said one-third of U.S. homes currently don’t have access to this technology that can spark new innovation, investments and jobs.
“We’re gonna have to up our game, Marquette — we gotta up our game. To attract the best jobs, the newest industries, we’re going to have to out innovate, out educate, out build. We’re going to have to out hustle the rest of the world… It’s not just the big cities where change is happening. It’s in towns like this that our economic future will be won,” he said.
Portions of the wireless plan will be included in the 2012 budget proposal Obama releases next week.
When the President arrived, Thursday morning, he walked off ff Air Force One in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wearing neither hat nor gloves in the 12-degree temperatures.
He was greeted by Marquette Mayor John Kivelais and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and kept his hands in his pockets while talking to folks gathered there to meet him.
On his way, to NMU he stopped for a sandwich at Donckers, a small, diner-like spot in downtown Marquette, and spoke with a group of Marquette-area business leaders. Among them were the owners of Getz’s Clothiers, a century-old company that gets 65 percent of its revenue from online sales.
He also got a demonstration of the university’s advanced wireless system for off-campus students.
Amy Clickner, CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership, couldn’t be happier about Obama promoting his speedy wireless plan in Marquette. She added, however, that the part of the U.P. that’s wireless is mostly in the shadow of Northern Michigan University, but that they’re very fortunate in the central Upper Peninsula.
“You know we’re very connected, but again, looking at it from the whole upper peninsula, we need to be connected with all of our communities up here. For instance, the regional medical center is here and tele-medicine is really extremely important,” said Clickner.
Clickner admits that while the Upper Peninsula is known more for fall color and copper, times are changing. “In this day and age when people are choosing where they want to live and then making it work, we’re a perfect place to be. And having broadband access makes that possible for people to start a venture, expand what they’re doing here and choose to live here because it’s a great quality of life,” she said.
Clickner noted that, prior to Obama’s visit, former president George W. Bush was the most recent president to make a stop in the U.P. during his re-election campaign in 2004. Before that, she says the last sitting president to visit the area is thought to have been William Howard Taft – a century ago.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.