Obama Wants 4G for 98% of Americans by 2016, But How Would That Work?

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During a speech at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., President Obama outlined a plan to bring 4G technology to 98% of American households by 2016.

According to an official White House statement, the plan “will enable businesses to grow faster, students to learn more, and public safety officials to access state-of-the-art, secure, nationwide, and interoperable mobile communications.”

The strategy would call for a five-year upgrade over the current 95% of American households with access to 3G connectivity, reasoning that “the number of ‘Smartphones’ will soon pass both conventional mobile phones and computers around the world.”

President Obama — a noted Blackberry fan and self-professed e-mail addict who once joked, “They’re going to have to pry [my Blackberry] out of my hands,” — detailed the plan to involve a one-time $5 billion investment to help free up 500 MHz of airwaves from the spectrum, giving rural areas high-speed wireless access.

The crux of the plan would work like this: The wireless broadcast spectrum is finite, with a limited number of channels available for communication, and, currently, many of these airwave segments are privately owned by local TV stations. The national 4G plan would hinge on asking (note: not requiring) these local stations to donate ownership of these segments to the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC) in exchange for future incentives. The airwaves would then be auctioned off to wireless providers while granting the original broadcasters a piece of the proceeds, the amount of which isn’t yet determined.

The end-goal would be to acquire as many of these individual wireless channels as possible to bundle together into a superfast 4G network. (Think bandwidth.)

While the plan has its fair share of opponents (notably Congressman Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; read his official response here), at least one wireless carrier supports the plan; AT&T was quick to issue a press release stating the following:

“This initiative will also enable public safety to build and fully operate a nationwide, interoperable communications network. The Administration’s commitment to provide public safety with the resources it needs while at the same time taking necessary steps to meet the needs of broadband providers is a tremendous step forward for this country.”

Faster song downloads for all, too.

More on TIME.com:

Verizon Closer to Letting Users Chat, Surf Web Simultaneously on 4G Network

AT&T and T-Mobile Tout 4G Devices Ahead of Verizon iPhone

Top 10 Consumer Tech Rivalries

The iPad 3 Rumor Mill Has Already Started Churning

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