CEDAR FALLS | President Barack Obama praised Cedar Falls as a small town doing big things during his Wednesday stop at Cedar Falls Utilities to announce a new broadband proposal ahead of his State of the Union address next week.
Obama contrasted the city of Cedar Falls with most others throughout the country where there is no competition for broadband, slower Internet speeds and often higher prices.
“Now, in Cedar Falls, things are different. About 20 years ago, in a visionary move ahead of its time, this city voted to add another option to the market and invest in a community broadband network,” Obama said. “Really smart thing you guys did.”
He said Cedar Falls, and a few other cities in the United States, were “guinea pigs” for the rest of the country when it comes to providing better Internet services. Obama put Cedar Falls in the company of the likes of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris.
“That’s the company you’re keeping,” Obama said of the quality of Internet services being offered in Cedar Falls.
The president held up Cedar Falls as an example because it offers Internet speeds 100 times faster than the national average.
CFU has been lauded for its efforts to expand access to high-speed Internet. Last year CFU began offering 1 gigabit per second Internet service, a goal of cities across the country as a spur to economic development. CFU was recognized by Google as a "2014 eCity" in October.
The president spoke for about 20 minutes at CFU and was in Waterloo and Cedar Falls for a total of about 90 minutes. He received a demonstration about fiber optics splicing, led by CFU Communications Services Manager David Schilling, a few minutes before taking to the stage.
The crowd was estimated to be about 205 people.
Though the president announced specifics of his proposals to enhance and expand broadband throughout the country, he focused on the need for better, faster and more reliable Internet connections.
“In this age of innovation and technology, so much of the prosperity that we’re striving for, so many of the jobs that we want to create, depend on our digital economy,” Obama said.
Obama said better broadband is no longer a luxury. He said his intiatives -- which are market-based and do not require congressional action -- are meant to help businesses, not so Americans can stream Netflix faster or load Facebook’s news feed better.
“This is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in a global economy,” Obama said.
Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews said he was proud of Cedar Falls and that the president’s visit will be good publicity for the city.
“This is good for attracting companies that have higher wages for technical positions,” Crews said. “Obviously to be recognized by Google and the president of the United States in two months time is pretty awesome.”
While several residents took pictures of the president’s motorcade or waved as it went by, there were some protesters holding signs urging the president to support the Keystone XL pipeline and to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The Black Hawk County Republicans welcomed the president to Cedar Falls and thanked him for highlighting CFU while urging him to resist additional regulations on the Internet.
Obama began his remarks by praising the University of Northern Iowa’s top 25 basketball team and wishing he could stop for a beer at The Pump Haus like he did during his last visit to Cedar Falls.
“It’s good to be back,” Obama said.
Obama arrived and departed on Air Force One at the Waterloo Airport. He exited the plane with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-2nd District.