Cedar Falls Utility in Iowa to Connect Last 700 Residents With $2.3 Million State

Cedar Falls Utilities is bringing 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access to the last 700 residents in its electric service area. With the help of a $2.3 million state grant, Cedar Falls Utilities fiber ISP - CFU FiberNet - will be connecting rural residents to the west and north of Cedar Falls city limits. 

Up until this point, CFU FiberNet has offered rural residents in the utilities service area without a fiber connection a fixed wireless option called WaveNet Wireless with two speed options: 9/1 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $56/month and 18/2 Mbps for $75/month. We do not know if WaveNet Wireless will continue after the expansion into these rural areas is complete. 

The funds were awarded through the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program which had nearly 180 applicants hoping for a grant from the $97.5 million pot of money. Ultimately, 38 projects were chosen. Winning bids aimed were aimed at two groups of households, with the requirement to deliver at least 100 Mbps symmetrical service to what we usually call “underserved” areas (where service is greater than 25/3Mbps but less than 100/100 Mbps), or 100/20 Mbps service in areas where broadband access is currently less than 25/3 Mbps. 

The challenge for these CFU electric subscribers to get onto the fiber network was the $7,500 cost of the drop; households in rural areas all around the country face a similar financial obstacle, even when excellent broadband service is nearby. With CFU contributing an additional $3 million to the effort (making the total project cost $5.3 million) these residents will no longer have the burden of making that hefty financial decision. 

Cedar Falls was one of the first cities in the nation with fiber optic infrastructure, connecting it’s first customer in 1996. In 2013, CFU completed its citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, and in 2020 it became the first 10 gigabit community in Iowa. 

Locals voiced their strong support for CFU’s application, citing need on farms and at residences, at schools, the potential for economic development, and the need to draw young people back to rural settings. Letters included in the application include one from a resident who said his family “desperately need[s] the speed and reliability CFU offers,” despite the fact that they already subscribe to Starlink service. 

Pricing and speed tiers for fiber start with a low-income option of 3 Mbps symmetrical for $30/month, then go up to 250 Mbps symmetrical for $58/month, 1 Gbps symmetrical for $77/month, and 10 Gbps symmetrical for $117/month. Rural subscribers pay about $5 more. CFU FiberNet also offers cable and telephone services. 

The timeline of the project is yet to be announced.