Obama kept in touch with his security team throughout the trip and opened his remarks at Northern Michigan University with brief comments on the events overseas, where President Hosni Mubarak appeared close to resigning. But in a late-night speech Egypt's president announced he was transferring some powers to his deputy. Mubarak did not step down from office. "We are witnessing history unfold," Obama said.
He then turned to the importance of investing in wireless technology, part of a new White House focus on innovation, competitiveness and infrastructure as a pathway to jobs and "winning the future." The president compared the goal of extending wireless access to important successes that connected previous generations of Americans: the building of railroads and the federal highway system.
"For millions of Americans, the railway hasn't shown up yet," Obama said. "For our families and our businesses, high-speed wireless service: that's the next train station; it's the next off-ramp. It's how we'll spark new innovation, new investments and new jobs."
Obama wants to make high-speed wireless available to 98 percent of the population within five years, a goal he set out in his State of the Union address.
It's a lofty aim considering such technology is only now being built in major cities by AT&T, Verizon and others. And it will cost billions of dollars that Republicans now running the House signaled they may be unwilling to spend. But the president cast it as crucial for America's future prosperity and competitiveness with other nations.
"This isn't just about faster Internet," the president said. "It's about connecting every corner of America to the digital age."
Obama has taken a domestic trip each week since the Jan. 25 speech to promote different aspects of his competitiveness agenda; previous trips focused on high-speed rail and energy efficiency.
Obama's wireless plan involves increasing the space available on the airwaves for high-speed wireless by auctioning off space on the radio spectrum to commercial wireless carriers. The White House says this would raise nearly $30 billion over 10 years, and the money could be spent on initiatives that include $10 billion to develop a national broadband network for public safety agencies and $5 billion for infrastructure to help rural areas access high-speed wireless.
Portions of the plan will be in the 2012 budget Obama sends to Capitol Hill on Monday. Republicans sounded skeptical Thursday about the proposal, which needs congressional approval.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said billions had already been allocated for broadband services in the 2009 economic stimulus bill. "Before we target any more of our scarce taxpayer dollars for broadband, it is critical to examine whether the money already being spent is having an impact," said Upton, who is holding hearings on the topic.
But Obama's proposals won applause from AT&T and other telecom companies.
White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes told The Associated Press that Obama wants more spending on Internet broadband because business leaders and emergency responders have told him more funds are needed. "We know that this is the right thing to do," she said.
Obama chose Marquette for Thursday's remarks because the university town of 20,000 overlooking Lake Superior is becoming an example of how the Internet can bring opportunity and prosperity to far-flung locales. Numerous local businesses market online. Northern Michigan University also has a high-tech wireless program, which Obama saw in action, that lets students and teachers connect with other classrooms in the region.
Michigan will also be an important state in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Associated Press writers Joelle Tessler and Julie Pace in Washington and John Flesher in Marquette, Mich., contributed to this report.