Obama in Marquette, talks of high-speed rail and internet access for all

Addressing 1,400 people at Northern Michigan University this afternoon, President Obama made the case for bringing the internet to relatively remote regions of America, like the Upper Peninsula. “We want to invest in the next-generation of high-speed wireless coverage for 98% of Americans,” Obama said, after informing the crowd that today only 65% of American households have high-speed internet access. “It’s towns like this where our economic future will be won,” he said. He also mentioned the critical importance of high-speed rail, and the current situation in Egypt. Here’s video of the entire speech:

And, here’s a clip from the transcript:

…And that last area — infrastructure — is why I’ve come here today. Connecting a country of our size has never been easy. Just imagine what Americans experienced when they fanned out from 13 colonies to settle a continent. If you wanted to get from one coast to the other, it would take you months; it would cost you a small fortune. If you settled in the heartland, you were an island, with no real market to sell your goods or buy what you needed. You might have to wait until the traders came by before you stocked up.

So we decided to build a railroad to span a continent — one that would blast through mountains of granite and use thousands of miles of steel, and put to work an army of citizens and immigrants to work. It was an endeavor that would also require support of our government. It didn’t just happen on its own. As General William T. Sherman said, “Uncle Sam is the only giant I know who can grapple the subject.”

So even as President Lincoln tried to hold the North and South together, he was determined to see this railroad unite East and West. And private companies joined the charge, racing one another to meet in the middle. And eventually, a telephone operator — a telegraph operator sent out a simple message to the cheers of a waiting nation. The telegraph just said: “Done.” Done. Now, if he knew that we were still talking about it today, he might have come up with something more inspiring. (Laughter.)

But overnight, the transcontinental railroad laid the way for a nationwide economy, not a bunch of local economies, but a nationwide economy. Suddenly, a cross-country trip was cut from months to days. The cost to move goods and mail plummeted. Cowboys drove cattle to railcars that whisked them back East. Entrepreneurs could sell anything, anywhere.

After the railroad was completed, a newspaper proclaimed: “We are the youngest of peoples. But we are teaching the world to march forward.” Teaching the world to march forward.

That’s who we are. We are a nation that has always been built to compete. And that’s why, decades later, FDR set up the Rural Electrification Administration to help bring power to vast swaths of America that were still in darkness. Companies said that building lines to rural areas would be too costly. I mean, big cities already had electricity. But they said, it’s too costly to go out into remote areas. It’s too costly to come up into the Upper Peninsula.

So Americans in these towns went without refrigeration or running water. If you wanted a glimpse of the larger world, your town might run a movie off a small diesel engine. It might not even last the full film.

Once power lines were laid down, electricity flowed to farms across the country, transforming millions of lives. There’s a well-known story of a Texas family returning home the first night their farmhouse was hooked up, and a woman thought it was on fire. And her daughter said, “No, Mama, the lights are on.” Think about that. That wasn’t that long ago, and government was there to help make sure that everybody — everybody, not just some — but everybody — not just those who folks could make an immediate profit off of — but everybody had access to electricity.

So years later, as our nation grew by leaps and bounds, we realized that a patchwork system of back roads and dirt paths couldn’t handle the biggest economy in the world. So President Eisenhower helped make it possible to build an Interstate Highway System, and that, too, transformed the nation — as much as the railways had.

And finally, we could ship goods and services to places that the railroads didn’t reach. It meant that we could live apart from where we worked. We could travel. We could see America.

Each of these achievements — none of them just happened. We chose to do them. We chose to do big things. And every American benefited — not just from new conveniences. Not just from the jobs created by laying down new lines or tracks or pavement. We benefited enormously from new economic growth — from the scores of businesses that opened near each town’s new train station, or new power line, or new off-ramp.

So this is a new century, and we can’t expect tomorrow’s economy to take root using yesterday’s infrastructure. We got to think about what’s the next thing, what’s the next big thing, and make sure that we’re at the forefront — just like we were in the last century.

Today, new companies are going to seek out the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods and information, whether they are in Shanghai or in Chicago. So if we want new jobs and businesses here in America, we’ve got to have the best transportation system and the best communication network in the world. It’s like that movie, Field of Dreams: If we build it, they will come. (Laughter.) But we’ve got to build it. We’ve got to build it.

Over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century. This is a national project that has meant thousands of jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And I’ve now proposed redoubling these efforts. We want to put more Americans to work repairing crumbling bridges and roads. Within 25 years, our goal is to have 80 percent of Americans with access to high-speed rail, which could allow you to go to places in half the time it takes by car. Within five years, we want to make it possible for businesses to put high-speed wireless services in reach of virtually every American…

Now, as a birthday present to me, please forward this to everyone you know who has ever said to you that the government shouldn’t be in the business of building our nation’s infrastructure.

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  1. John Galt
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Surely he’s ineligible to be our president. I just read the Constitution and he’s only 3/5 of a person.

  2. Mrs. Galt
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I found it suspicious that he did not quote the constitution. Not even once. He should restrict himself to just the words printed on that sacred document, as should all elected officials. If he wants to talk about infrastructure, I want him to only talk of cow paths and canals.

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