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 many others throughout the country where there is no market competition for broadband, slower Internet speeds and often offered at a higher price.

“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 others throughout 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.

Cedar Falls was chosen in part because it has Internet connections that are 100 times faster than the national average.

CFU has been lauded for its efforts to expand access to high-speed Internet. Last year Cedar Falls Utilities 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 count was estimated to be about 205 people.

Though the president announced the specifics of his proposals to enhance and expand broadband throughout the country, he focused his efforts on promoting the need for better, faster and more reliable Internet connections in the country.

“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 but a necessity. He said he is announcing the initiatives – which are market-based and will not require congressional action – because it matters for 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 high-speed Internet and the President’s visit will be good PR 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 relating to local Iowans, 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.

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