The United States isn't the world leader in broadband penetration. In fact, we're nowhere close to the top of the list — we typically hover around spot 15 or 20, depending on how you define it. In less than five years, however, the President just said he wanted to spread wireless broadband to cover 98% of the nation.
President Obama called for national Wi-Fi in last night's State of the Union address, which was hosted on Youtube:
Within the next five years, we'll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn't just about-(applause)-this isn't about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It's about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.
It sounds great, but it's a challenge that's been posed before for the U.S. and one the nation can never agree on about how to tackle. Install a bunch of new infrastructure? Nah, no one wants to pay for that. We've got a big country with a lot of sparsely populated rural zones.
Right now, what's thought to be the quickest solution is wresting control of 500 MHz range radio spectrum from TV broadcasting companies, which use it for free TV transmissions. Of course, broadcasters aren't giving it up easy, and the FCC needs Congress to push through some changes before it offer the controlling companies incentives to auction off spectrum.
In short, it's hairy. Impossible? No, but darned hairy.