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President's High-Wireless Act Draws a Crowd

Reaction continued to pour in over the electronic transom Thursday following delivery of the President' speech in Michigan promoting his national wireless plan, which aims to reclaim enough spectrum from broadcasters and others to get 4G wireless broadband service to 98% of America within five years, including via a one-time $5 billion investment in wireless deployment.

The President is also proposing to allocate, rather than auction, spectrum for a national, interoperable communications network, and pay for its operation out of spectrum auction proceeds.

CTIA: The Wireless Association, whose members will be getting more bandwidth to deliver all those new apps, was understandably pleased: "CTIA and the wireless industry are excited about the President's focus to ensure the entire U.S. wireless ecosystem continues to lead the world in investment and innovation. We are eager to work with the White House to expand the next generation of mobile broadband access to more than 98 percent of Americans within the next five years," CTIA said. "As numerous studies have shown, the ability to use mobile broadband anytime, anywhere is a great equalizer that offers tremendous benefit for consumers and drives the U.S. economy."

Ditto the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council was all for it: "MMTC applauds the President's
forward-thinking plan to bridge the digital divide by giving many Americans access to broadband for the first time. His proposal offers concrete progress that will create jobs, strengthen our economy and bring millions of Americans into the digital community.

"President Obama has outlined a comprehensive and aggressive plan that lays the groundwork for bringing wireless broadband to all Americans," said John Donovan, AT&T Chief Technology Officer, who the White House had on a list of participants at the President's Michigan speech, which also included a distance-learning demonstration. "AT&T applauds the Administration's support for the role that industry and private investment play in making this important goal a reality.  As we saw demonstrated today in Marquette, Michigan, wireless broadband makes possible extraordinary opportunities for both consumers and businesses, as well as for America's students and teachers. "

"The President's vision of wireless broadband technologies deeply integrated into our economy is both
unassailable and bipartisan. More importantly, he recognizes that voluntary incentive auctions are a key tool to unlocking the mobile future," said the High-Tech Spectrum Coalition. It is comprised of companies like Cisco and Qualcomm, which have been pushing the FCC to reclaim broadcast spectrum so it can be used for advanced wireless applications. According to the White House, Dr. Roberto Padovani, CTO of Qualcomm, was also on the guest list for the President's speech.

The coalition took the opportunity to push for incentive auctions, which the administration also supports as a way to encourage broadcasters to give up spectrum by compensating them for doing so out of proceeds from the auction of that spectrum.

National Association of Broadcasters EVP Dennis Wharton said NAB was not opposed to the president's plan, but...  "Let's not forget that broadcasters returned more than a quarter of TV station spectrum to the government less than two years ago," he said, "and that much of that spectrum has not yet been deployed. NAB is not against the President's plan. We will work to ensure that incentive auctions remain truly voluntary, and that broadcasters who don't volunteer to return spectrum -- and the millions of viewers that we serve -- are held harmless."

Free Press was not happy with much of the plan. the group is all for deploying broadband, but sees the plan as skewed more toward helping incumbent wireless players rather than the public's interest.

"While we are pleased to see the president focusing on our nation's broadband challenges," said Research Director Derek Turner in a statement, "we are concerned that the public interest is being overlooked in this proposal to sell more of our public airwaves to wireless companies like AT&T and Verizon. These industry giants are already building out their networks and expanding coverage, and they don't need a handout from the federal government to achieve the president's goals."

Turner criticized the plan for the absence of policies to promote adoption. "Studies have shown that if you build it, they may not come," he said. "According to the FCC's own data, 98% of households in the United States already have access to wireless broadband service, while less than one-third subscribe to it.

The President's call for government to subsidize the creation and operation of a national emergency communications network was preaching to the choir when it came to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who has introduced a bill to give the president what he wants.

"I have long supported providing our first responders the ability to communicate with one another when the unthinkable occurs," Rockefeller said in a statement. My bill does exactly that, and I am glad that President Obama has embraced this great concept."

Rockefeller has scheduled a hearing on the network next week, which would be created via his Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act.