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Obama pushes expanding high-speed wireless service

US President Barack Obama gives his speech at the event 'Together We Thrive. (AFP)

By Reuters

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday called for expanding high-speed wireless services to meet the voracious appetite of consumers and businesses, a task that could be tough because airwaves are a finite resource and demand is almost limitless.

"Within the next five years, we will make it possible for business to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98% of all Americans," Obama said during his annual State of the Union speech to the US Congress.

"This isn't just about a faster Internet and fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age," he said, noting farmers in rural areas can sell their crops abroad and doctors can chat with patients via video.

The Obama administration has endorsed making 500 megahertz of wireless airwaves, or spectrum, available over the next decade to meet the growing demand for broadband services, including the widely popular Apple iPad and proliferation of smartphones.

The Federal Communications Commission hopes to repurpose 120 megahertz of spectrum through incentive auctions where television broadcasters like CBS Corp would voluntarily give up spectrum in exchange for a portion of the proceeds.

"President Obama is helping the nation to understand the incredible benefits that broadband wireless can bring: to our business, to healthcare, to productivity and to education," said Verizon Wireless general counsel Steve Zipperstein.

"Wireless innovation requires public policies that foster innovation, growth and encourage continued investment by Verizon and our partners in the technology," he said.

However, the broadcast television industry has raised concerns about giving up its airwaves. An industry representative noted airwaves it relinquished two years have yet to be fully used.

"We would encourage Congress to immediately pass spectrum inventory legislation that fully identifies airwaves that are not being used," said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters.