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Since Cedar Falls citizens approved the establishment of a municipal communications utility in the early 1990s, Cedar Falls Utilities has developed into a nice asset for the city and its residents.

CFU is the largest municipal utility in Iowa, and it’s the only utility in the state that has all four utilities — electric, water, gas and communications.

Its relatively recent investment in renewable energy is a progressive approach to future needs. And CFU’s ability to offer some of the fastest internet speeds in the nation should continue to help lure businesses that demand those high speeds.

CFU has been an excellent partner on many levels. Its newest initiative to partner with the school district certainly won’t do anything to damage that stellar reputation.

First, a little district background: In 2014, the Cedar Falls School District began providing a Chromebook for every junior high and high school student. That was a good move by the district and a great way to help ensure all students had readily available access to the internet.

However, having internet access at home is one more expense that some families do without. And without internet services at home, some students have been unable to make full use of the Chromebooks to do homework.

That’s about to change.

CFU recently announced it will be rolling out a new low-cost internet service option designed for families who cannot afford internet service. The service will be called Connect CF.

“We’ve worked closely with the school district on this,” said Steve Bernard, CFU general manager. “We think there are about 100 (families) that will qualify for this.”

That equates to the number of families in the CFU service area with a seventh- through 12th-grade student who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches and haven’t subscribed to internet services from the company within the past 60 days.

“The need has been there,” said Dan Conrad, director of secondary education for the district. “For some reason, they don’t have the financial means (to pay for internet services). This was a way we could partner with CFU to provide limited access at home.”

The service will cost $20 per month and be available during the school year. Internet service costs $45 per month for regular customers who also have cable TV through CFU, and $60 for those who don’t.

The company has developed a “kind of a new internet product,” said Bernard, that can be accessed only by the school-issued Chromebooks. That way the service is not a subsidized one. And there are efforts to raise funds to further offset the cost for participants.

One thing is sure. Every student needs access to technology, because every student needs to be prepared for a world filled with technology.

This isn’t your parents’ schoolroom.

CFU plans to begin connecting students to the service later this spring.

“I have to give a lot of credit to CFU,” Conrad said. “They have invested a lot of their own time and resources to make this happen.”

We give a lot of credit to both the district and CFU for getting the Chromebooks into the hands of each student, and now seeing they have internet access at home to use them there.

It’s one more hurdle removed for low-income families in making sure their students are not left behind.

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