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24 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | MARCH/APRIL 2014 COMMUNITY BROADBAND How Cedar Falls Got Its Gigabit Is the ÒgigÓ a goal that a community should aspire to reach someday Ð or does taking the plunge today make more sense? HereÕs how Cedar Falls, Iowa, made the decision. By Craig Settles / Gigabit Nation I n May 2013, Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU), a municipal utility that provides broadband communications, electricity, water and natural gas services in Cedar Falls, Iowa, launched Internet service at 1 Gbps. Tis made Cedar Falls the frst and only Iowa community on the nation's short list of gigabit cities. CFU's gigabit service, delivered through the new citywide fber optic network, is available now at any Cedar Falls business or home. Cedar Falls is one of many communities inspired by early, high-profle gigabit deployments in Chattanooga, Kansas City and elsewhere as well as by policy initiatives such as the FCC's Gigabit City Challenge. As broadband project leaders in these communities form their plans and partnerships, they face a critical question: "Should we ofer gigabit service immediately, or should we deliver broadband in incremental speeds and work up to a gigabit over time?" Tis question matters because costs and benefts difer depending on which option a community chooses. With the intense pressure on municipal budgets, the road to a gigabit network is more than a little bumpy. Te temptation to go slow and create lower- bandwidth broadband services as a way to make network buildouts afordable initially and ofer gigabit speeds later is logical, but is it in communities' best interests? Understanding how Cedar Falls' high-speed network evolved from its 1995 introduction to the 2013 announcement of its gigabit network services ofers perspective and provides insights for answering this question. CFU originally delivered residential services over a hybrid fber-coaxial (HFC) network. Tis strategy was popular at the time with cable TV operators as well as with small telecom companies and public utilities that wanted to expand into Internet access and TV services. Like other cable companies, CFU adopted Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifcation (DOCSIS), an international telecommunications standard created in 1997, to add high-speed data transfer to its existing cable TV network. In a DOCSIS-based HFC network, video, Internet and voice trafc travels from a network's regional headend through optical fber cables strung onto utility poles or buried underground. Te cables fan out from distribution hubs to optical nodes that serve local neighborhoods. Tere data is translated from light beams to radio signals that are carried on coaxial cables with copper cores that distribute data to subscribers' residences. Public demand for faster broadband, heightened by the 2009 broadband stimulus and Google's eforts to build gigabit networks, led many cable providers to upgrade to DOCSIS 3.0, which has proven to be a relatively low-cost way to increase downstream bandwidth for cable broadband. For example, Mediacom, one of Iowa's dominant incumbent providers, recently did this to increase its network's downstream capacity to 105 Mbps. Rural telcos, conversely, have felt compelled in recent years to get into the TV and Internet business but believe copper plants are not capable of supporting this need as demand increases over time. Tus, many have replaced their copper with fber to the home. Tough BBC_Mar14.indd 24 3/14/14 2:46 PM