A surprising number of Americans don’t have access to the Internet. Along with creating universal health care and repairing the housing market, President Barack Obama wants to address this problem. The issue has been a real point of emphasis, gaining mention in both this year’s State of the Union address and during a trip last Thursday to Marquette, Mich. The United States lags behind other developed nations when it comes to Internet access, so it’s encouraging that Obama has made it a priority. The administration should continue to work toward its goal of Internet access for all Americans so the U.S. can compete in a global economy.

Obama chose to visit Marquette to sell his idea because the remote city has nearly universal wireless Internet coverage. He’s outlined a plan to make the web accessible to 98 percent of the country within five years. The $18 billion project would create more space for wireless Internet traffic by auctioning airwaves that currently belong to government agencies and television stations to commercial wireless carriers. Funds would be used to construct rural 4G networks and mobile communications systems for emergency responders, according to a Feb. 10 article in The Washington Post. Stimulus money and various federal subsidies will supplement finances for the program, which Obama has said is an important part of building a new infrastructure for the country.

The U.S. can’t continue to lag behind in infrastructure development, which includes more than railways, roads and telephones. A recent government survey showed that 40 percent of Americans don’t have access to high-speed Internet, according to a CNET article. In 2009 the U.S. ranked 28th in download speed, with speeds only a quarter as fast as first-ranked South Korea. Obama’s policy is a necessary step toward improving Internet access. A well-formulated national strategy to expand Internet access is imperative for the U.S. to thrive in a growing competitive world economy.

Simply put, the Internet is good for business. Whether it helps entrepreneurs start companies or market their products, web access provides an unparalleled level of connectivity with the outside world that’s valuable to many Americans. Neglecting this source of economic development, especially as the U.S. emerges from a recession, would prove to be costly in the long run. Overall, Obama’s plan is a smart investment — not only does it pave the way for future economic development, but it also puts $10 billion in additional auction revenues toward closing the budget deficit.

But expanding Internet access isn’t just a smart business decision. At a fundamental level, the web empowers — it facilitates the proliferation of information and fosters the exchange of ideas, while also giving students the tools to succeed. Whether by encouraging innovation or closing the education gap, the Internet helps people to achieve their potential. It’s unacceptable that Americans don’t have access to this resource at the same level as citizens of other developed countries.

Obama’s initiative to make the Internet available throughout the country is essential to the country’s continued improvement and vitality.

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