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Obama pushes broadband expansion proposal

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: GOP slams proposal as excessive spending, says it won't create jobs
  • Obama proposes a plan to expand wireless coverage to 98% of Americans
  • $5 billion would be spent for rural wireless access
  • $11 billion would be committed to a wireless network for public safety officials

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama outlined plans Thursday to extend wireless coverage to 98% of Americans over the next five years, arguing that a new telecommunications investment is needed to help the U.S. economy compete in a rapidly modernizing global marketplace.

Among other things, Obama's initiative calls for roughly doubling the wireless spectrum available for mobile broadband, freeing up 500 megahertz of spectrum. The president's plan calls for the federal government to spend $5 billion -- managed by the Federal Communications Commission -- to support wireless expansion into rural areas.

Nearly $11 billion would be allocated to help develop a separate national wireless network specifically for first responders and other public safety officials.

Addressing students at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Obama noted that over 90% of homes in South Korea have access to high-speed broadband. Only 65% of American households have similar access.

"When it comes to high-speed internet, the lights are still off in one-third of our households," he said in his prepared remarks. "For millions of Americans, the railway hasn't come yet."

"High-speed wireless service is the next train station, the next off-ramp," he added. "It's how we'll spark new innovation, new investments, and new jobs."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus ripped Obama's proposal, calling it part of a failed administration strategy of boosting federal spending to spur economic growth.

"We had this same debate two years ago when the president's stimulus plan was supposed to create much-needed jobs," Priebus said in a written statement.

"Now we are having the same conversation as unemployment remains much higher than Obama promised his last spending binge would allow. Spending hand over fist didn't work then and it won't work now."

The 2009 stimulus act included $7 billion for broadband access and adoption, according to the White House.