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Residents begin to connect to Waterloo Fiber, excited to switch

January 12, 2024

DATE: Jan. 12, 2024
BY: Maria Kuiper, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; photo by Maria Kuiper, Waterloo-Cedar
Falls Courier

WATERLOO — The first customers are hooked up to the new municipal fiber project, and they
are raving about the switch.

Brent Gilmore and his family now use Waterloo Fiber. The Gilmores, who live on Sheridan
Road, are one of four households participating in a test period for the new broadband network.
The chosen customers will use Waterloo Fiber for a few weeks before deciding whether to
switch or to stay with their current internet provider.

“Once (the testing period) is over, we’ll sign a contract and we’ll disconnect our Mediacom
internet,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore said he’s used Mediacom for decades but was ready to be a guinea pig because he’s
been anticipating the day Waterloo Fiber would be implemented. And he isn’t the only one.
The creation of a municipal utility service in Waterloo was approved in a 2005 election, but at
that time no funding was allocated. In a 2022 referendum, residents overwhelmingly approved a
$20 million bond issue for municipal broadband. More than 6% of Waterloo’s registered voters
participated in the election and the measure was passed with 84% approval.

The bonds are backed by the city’s ability to tax its property owners, but the city plans to repay
them with revenue generated by the broadband utility as well as revenues from utilities, sewer
and storm water services.

Eric Lage, Waterloo Fiber’s general manager, said the implementation was a long time coming
but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the project.

“I really think when COVID hit, it kind of clicked with people that, ‘Oh, we need a better choice’,”
he said. “I really think that the vote in ‘22 kind of reflected people’s experiences during COVID.”
Over the past year, the City Council approved multiple bids for construction and consulting as
well as grants to help pay for the project. The total project will cost an estimated $115 million.
Most of that money – nearly $78 million – will go to ITG Communications to build out the fiber
network. The city has obtained close to $30 million in grant funding.

Although Gilmore isn’t paying for Waterloo Fiber yet, he expects his internet bill to be cut in half.
He currently pays $114.99 per month for one gigabit of speed with 3,000 gigabits of usage.
When he ran a speed test, he was averaging 50 to 150 megabytes per second – about 10% of
the speed he pays for.
But it is still fast, comparable to the speed most people have.

With Waterloo Fiber’s test period, Gilmore is being guaranteed the same 1 Gbps speed for
$69.95. Over the holidays, he and his son did a speed test and saw the WiFi speed was 950
Mbps to 1 Gbps. Gilmore’s son said it was faster than the connection he uses at the University
of Iowa.

“Over New Years we had 10 people on different devices and we didn’t have any issues,”
Gilmore said, noting people were on their phones, using streaming services and playing video

Waterloo Fiber offers options of 100 Mbps, 300 Mbps, 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps. Lage said families
would benefit from the higher packages while someone living alone could use the 300 Mbps
speed. He thinks most customers will use 300 Mbps or 1 Gbps.

For just internet service, prices are $29.95, $49.95, $69.95 and $109.95 monthly, respectively.
Waterloo Fiber will also offer phone and television services for higher costs. A residential
internet, phone and TV package ranges from $86.95 to $223.95 monthly, depending on speed.
There will be a discounted rate for households qualifying for the Universal Service
Administrative Company’s Lifeline program. Residents can use that program if their income is
135% or less than the federal poverty guidelines. If someone in a household participates in the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal
Public Housing Assistance or Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit, they can receive 100
Mbps for $29.95.

Households using Lifeline can also receive a $30 per month subsidy, ultimately making internet
for these households free. Eligible households must apply for the program through the Federal
Communications Commission and contact Waterloo Fiber.

Lage said compared with other internet providers, Waterloo Fiber’s pricing is “transparent and
straightforward.” He said many companies increase prices after a year of usage, which many
people may not realize.

Another company, Metronet, is currently installing a fiber network in parts of the city.
Lage said Waterloo Fiber is “not sharing anything” with Metronet, but the company may have to
dig up land where Waterloo Fiber has previously installed fiber optic cables to lay its own fiber,
and vice versa.

Residents can identify which utility is being installed by the trucks and employees in their
neighborhoods. Those affected by Metronet’s construction should receive notice 30 days in

Waterloo Fiber is expected to finish work around Fire Station 6 in the Ansborough-Ridgeway
neighborhood in February, and then move on to the San Marnan Avenue and Crossroads area.
Work is being completed in three phases. Phase one, in south Waterloo, is expected to be
finished by the end of this year. Phase two, in northeast Waterloo, should be finished by the end
of 2025. The final phase in northwest Waterloo is expected to be finished by the end of 2026.

Lage said the most accurate way for a resident to find out when they will be hooked up to the
new service is by calling the office at (319) 291-0175. Those interested can also register on their
website, waterloofiber.com, to be contacted in the future about when services are available.

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