CEDAR FALL, Iowa --- Chris Hansen is excited. He's getting the Internet.
Sure, he has access through his cell phone. But soon his rural Cedar Falls home also will be connected.
Cedar Falls Utilities is beginning construction on a system to bring reliable, high-speed service to more than 900 customers in the rural electric service area north and west of the city.
Hansen called the development "a godsend." Recently he moved a mile west of the city limits on University Avenue. Accessing the web from his phone is functional but slow, he said.
"It's just not like having an Internet connection like you do in town where it's on, it works, it broadcasts through the whole house and as many people can get on it as capable," he said.
CFU received final approval last month on a federal grant to fund nearly 40 percent of the $2.3 million installation cost. This reduces the high per-customer cost of building a communications system in an area with lower housing density. Customers will pay a similar price as those in town.
More than 500 of the 900 rural customers expressed interest in the service during an early signup period.
Three new towers will provide wireless Internet from a network of land-based transmitters to approximately half of CFU's rural customers. Locations include 320th Street and Yale Avenue, Mark and Van Wert roads, and Big Woods and West Cedar Wapsi roads. Two others will be attached further south on the CFU smokestack and on an existing cell phone tower.
The Wireless WaveNet product, which requires a small reception antennae on the roof, will offer speeds similar to CFU's most popular Internet service plan offered inside city limits.
The second half of the customers in the broadband expansion will have a fiber-optic connection --- the same as that available to in-town residents --- brought directly to their properties, mostly in denser neighborhoods like Beaver Hills or Turkey Foot. Those customers will be eligible to sign up for CFU's complete menu of high-speed Internet and cable TV services.
Hansen has the wireless option, which will assist with his business as a sales representative for Bertch Cabinets and in his work on the family farm. He said he may subscribe to Netflix, which streams movies and television programs, and the Internet will benefit his twin children, Christian and Carina, 13, who currently share one phone with Internet.
"It's really kind of neat now because with the school system ... they make it so as a parent or as a schoolkid you can get on and see what's going on and access lesson plans," he said. "If you didn't have the ability to get that very easily, it would be a challenge."
Once construction is completed, customer installations will begin this fall and continue through the first half of 2013.
In addition, the wireless towers will serve two-way electric meters CFU is installing in the rural area. The digital meters will provide immediate reports of electric outages so crews can respond faster. They also will reduce meter reading costs, as a CFU employee will no longer need to visit rural properties to collect usage information. Lower costs help hold rates down.