Speaking at Northern Michigan University (NMU) yesterday, President Obama took the wraps off of his administration’s plan to spend up to $18 billion in federal funds to extend wireless broadband connectivity to 98% of the U.S. population within five years. First outlined by Obama during last month’s State of the Union address, the plan would be funded by auctions, primarily of unused or underused television channels surrendered voluntarily by broadcasters. These frequencies are projected to reap in excess of $27.8 billion. Administration officials also maintain that the plan would raise enough revenue to cut the federal budget deficit by as much as $9.6 billion over the next decade. Under Obama’s plan, $10.7 billion would be earmarked toward the deployment of a nationwide, interoperable wireless broadband network in the 700 MHz D-block that would be allocated directly to and used by public safety entities. The plan also envisions a one-time allotment of $5 billion toward wireless broadband expansion in rural areas as well as an outlay of $3 billion for a government research and development program that would explore uses for wireless broadband technologies in health, educational and energy applications. Although the plan relies heavily on voluntary incentive auctions of broadcast television spectrum, it does not include estimates of how much money would be returned to broadcasters through that process. Pointing to NMU’s partnership with firms such as Intel that has led to the deployment of WiMax network facilities on the NMU campus, Obama told his audience: “if you can do this in the snowy wilderness of the [Michigan] Upper Peninsula, we can do this all over America.” Meanwhile, at a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight hearing conducted yesterday on the results of last year’s $7 billion broadband stimulus program, committee chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) advised: “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.”