Following are the remarks prepared for delivery today by President Obama on the topic of a Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative; he’s delivering this speech now at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan.
Hello, Marquette! It is good to be in the U.P. It is good to be at Northern Michigan University!
So, I have to say, I think some folks on my staff have it out for me. Not because it’s 10 degrees here – I can handle that. It’s because for the second time in two weeks, not long after my Bears went down, they’ve sent me to a town with a bunch of Green Bay Packer fans, even if we are in Michigan. But I congratulate all the fans here, and we’ll see the Packers at the White House.
Of course, I haven’t come to Marquette to talk about winning the Super Bowl. I’ve come here because it’s towns like this where the jobs and businesses of tomorrow will take root. It’s towns like this where our economic future will be won.
In the short-term, the best thing we can do to speed up economic growth is to make sure families and businesses have more money to spend. And that’s exactly what the tax cuts we passed in December are doing. Because Democrats and Republicans came together, Americans’ paychecks will be a little bigger this year. Businesses will be able to write off their investments. Companies will grow and add workers.
But we have to do more. Our measure of success has to be whether every American who wants a job can find one; whether this country is still the place where you can make it if you try. In a world that’s more connected and more competitive, other nations look at this as their moment – their turn to win the jobs and industries of our time. I see things differently. I see this as America’s moment to win the future.
To do this, though, we have to up our game. To attract the best jobs and newest industries, we’ve got to out-innovate, out-educate, out-build and out-hustle the rest of the world. That means investing in cutting-edge research and technology, like the new advanced battery manufacturing industry that’s taking root right here in Michigan. It means investing in the skills and training of our people. It means investing in transportation and communication networks that move goods and information as fast as possible.
And to make room for these investments, we have to cut whatever spending we can do without. That’s why I’ve proposed that we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years, which would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and bring that spending to the lowest share of our economy since Eisenhower was President.
Government has to start doing what American families do every day: we have to live within our means. But even as we do so, we cannot sacrifice our future. If you’re trying to cut back, you might decide not to go out to dinner or take a vacation. But you wouldn’t stop saving for your kids’ college or your retirement. The same is true with our country. Even as we cut out the things we can afford to do without, we have a responsibility to invest in those areas that will have the biggest impact our future – innovation, education, and infrastructure.
That last area – infrastructure – is why I’ve come here today.
Connecting a country of our size has never been easy. Just imagine what Americans experienced when they fanned out from thirteen colonies to settle a continent. If you wanted to get from one coast to the other, it would take you months and cost you a small fortune. If you settled in the heartland, you were an island, with no real market to sell your goods or buy what you needed.
So we decided to build a railroad to span a continent – one that would blast through mountains of granite, use thousands of miles of steel, and put to work an army of citizens and immigrants. It was an endeavor that would also require support from our government. As General William T. Sherman said, “Uncle Sam is the only giant I know who can grapple the subject.”
Even as President Lincoln tried to hold together North and South, he was determined to see this railroad unite East and West. Private companies joined the charge, racing one another to meet in the middle. And eventually, a telegraph operator sent out a simple message to the cheers of a waiting nation: “DONE.” If he knew we’d still be talking about it today, he might have come up with something more inspiring.
Overnight, the transcontinental railroad laid the way for a nationwide economy. A cross-country trip was cut from months to days. The cost to move goods and mail plummeted. Cowboys drove cattle to railcars that whisked them East. Entrepreneurs could sell anything, anywhere.
After the railroad was completed, a newspaper proclaimed: “We are the youngest of peoples. But we are teaching the world to march forward.”
That’s who we are – a nation that has always been built to compete. That’s why, decades later, FDR set up the Rural Electrification Administration – to help bring power to vast swaths of America that were still in darkness. Companies said that building lines to rural areas would be too costly. So Americans in these towns simply went without refrigeration or running water. If you wanted a glimpse of the larger world, your town might run a movie off a small diesel engine – but it might not even last for the full film.
Once power lines were laid down, electricity flowed to farms across the country and transformed millions of lives. When a Texas family returned home the first night their farmhouse was hooked up, a woman thought it was on fire. “No mama,” said her daughter, “the lights are on.”
Years later, as our nation grew by leaps and bounds, we realized that a patchwork system of back roads and dirt paths couldn’t handle the biggest economy in the world. So President Eisenhower helped make possible an Interstate Highway System that transformed the nation as much as the railways had. Finally, we could ship goods and services to places that railroads didn’t reach. We could live apart from where we worked. We could travel and see America.
These achievements…none of them just happened. We chose to do them. We chose to do big things. And every American benefited – not just from new conveniences. Not just from the jobs created by laying down new lines or tracks or pavement. We benefited from new economic growth – from the scores of new businesses that opened near each town’s new train station, new power lines, or new off-ramp.
But this is a new century. And we cannot expect tomorrow’s economy to take root along yesterday’s infrastructure. New companies are going to seek out the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information – whether they’re in Shanghai or Chicago. And so if we want new jobs and businesses in America, we have to have the best transportation and communication networks in the world. Just like the movie, Field of Dreams: if we build it, they will come.
Over the last two years, we have begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a national project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And I have I proposed redoubling these efforts. We want to put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. And within five years, we want to make it possible for businesses to put high-speed wireless services in reach of virtually every American.
That last part is why I chose to come to Northern Michigan University today. Today, more than 90 percent of homes in South Korea subscribe to high-speed broadband. Meanwhile, in America, the nation that created the internet, only 65 percent of households can say the same. When it comes to high-speed internet, the lights are still off in one-third of our households. For millions of Americans, the railway hasn’t come yet.
For our families and businesses, high-speed wireless service is the next train station; the next off-ramp. It’s how we’ll spark new innovation, new investments, and new jobs.
You already know this here at Northern Michigan. For a decade now, this university has given a new laptop to every incoming student. WiFi stretched across campus. But if you lived off-campus, like most students and teachers here, you were largely out of luck. Broadband was often too expensive to afford. And if you lived a bit further out of town, you were completely out of luck – broadband providers often won’t build networks where it’s not profitable.
So this university tried something new. You partnered with various companies to build a high-speed, next-generation wireless network. And you managed to install it with six people in only four days – without raising tuition. Today, this is one of America’s most connected universities, and enrollment is near the highest it’s been in 30 years.
What’s more, you told nearby towns that if they allowed you to retrofit their towers with new equipment to expand your network, then their schools, first responders, and city governments could use it too. As a result, police officers can access crime databases in their cars. Firefighters can download blueprints on the way to a burning building. Public works officials can save money by monitoring pumps and equipment remotely.
And you’ve created new online learning opportunities for K-12 students as far as 30 miles away, some of whom can’t always make it to school in a place that averages 200 inches of snow a year. Now, I’m sure some of the students don’t exactly see the end of snow days as an opportunity. But it’s good for their education, and it’s good for our economy. In fact, I’ve just come from a demonstration of online learning in action.
For local businesses, broadband access is helping them grow, prosper, and compete in a global economy. In fact, Marquette has been rated one of the top five “eCities” in Michigan for entrepreneurship. Consider Getz’s Clothiers, a third-generation, family-owned Marquette institution. They’ve occupied the same downtown store for more than a century – but with the help of broadband, they were recently listed as one of America’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies. Online sales make up more than two-thirds of its annual revenue. It can process more than 1,000 orders a day, and its workforce has more than doubled. Today Getz’s is a local business with a global footprint.
If you can do this in the snowy wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, we can do this all across America. In fact, many places already are. In Wagner, South Dakota, patients can receive high-quality, life-saving medical care from a Sioux Falls specialist who can monitor their EKG and listen to their breathing – from 100 miles away. In Ten Sleep, Wyoming, a town of about 300 people, a fiber-optic network allowed a company to employ several hundred teachers who teach English to students in Asia over the internet, 24 hours a day. You’ve all heard about outsourcing. Well this is what we call “insourcing” – where overseas work is done right here in America.
We want to multiply these stories – and yours – all over the country. We want to invest in the next-generation of high-speed wireless coverage for 98 percent of Americans.
This isn’t just about a faster internet or being able to friend someone on Facebook. It’s about connecting every corner of America to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers can monitor weather across the state and markets across the globe. It’s about an entrepreneur on Main Street with a great idea she hopes to sell to the big city. It’s about every young person who no longer has to leave his hometown to seek new opportunity – because it’s right at his fingertips.
To make this happen, we’ll invest in research and development of emerging technologies and applications. We’ll accelerate breakthroughs in health, education, and transportation; and deploy a new nationwide, interoperable wireless network for first responders – making sure they have the funding and the frequencies that they were promised and that they need to keep us safe. And by selling private companies the rights to these airwaves, we won’t just encourage private investment and expand wireless access; we’ll actually bring in revenues that lower our deficits.
Now, access to high-speed internet by itself won’t make a business more successful, or a student smarter, or a citizen more informed. That takes hard work. It takes those late nights. It takes that quintessentially American drive to be the best. But we have always believed that we have a responsibility to guarantee all our people every tool necessary for them to meet their full potential. And in a 21st century economy, that has never been more important. Every American deserves access to the world’s information. Every American deserves access to the global economy. We have promised this for fifteen years. It is time we delivered on that promise.
Connecting our people. Competing with the rest of the world. Living within our means without sacrificing what’s required to win the future. We can do all this. We have done it before.
In 1960, at the height of his presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy came to Michigan. It was a moment not unlike this one, when other nations were doing their best to take our place at the top. And here, he made it clear that if we wanted to keep from being knocked off, then there could only be one goal for the United States, and it could be summed up in one word: “first.”
“I do not mean first, but,” he said. “I do not mean first, when. I do not mean first, if. I mean first – period.”
“The real question now,” he continued, “is whether we are up to the task – whether each and every one of us is willing to face the facts, to bear the burdens, to provide the risks, [and] to meet our dangers.”
Marquette, we were up to the task then. We are up to the task today. Time and time again, whether westward or skyward, with each rail and road we’ve laid, in every community we’ve connected with our own science and imagination, we have forged anew our faith that we can do anything. We do big things. That’s who we are. That’s who we must be once more – that young nation that teaches the world to march forward.
That’s what you’re doing here at Northern Michigan University, and that’s what all of us are going to do together in the months and years to come. Thank you, God Bless You, and God Bless the United States of America.