President Obama will be in Iowa Wednesday.(Photo: file)

By Jennifer Jacobs
DeMoines Register

President Barack Obama is coming back to Iowa to pitch ideas for expanding Internet access.

On Wednesday, Obama will fly in to give a speech proposing new steps to increase access to affordable, high-speed broadband across the country, a White House official told The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning.

“Further details on the president’s travel to Iowa will be available in the coming days,” the official said.

Sources told the Register that Cedar Falls Utilities will host the event at 2 p.m.

Cedar Falls is Iowa’s only gigabit city, which means the highest-speed broadband fiber with capacity of up to 1 gigabit per second is installed directly to its homes and businesses. It’s the gold standard of Internet communications.

Broadband is also one of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad’s top initiatives for the upcoming session of the Iowa Legislature, although a proposal he backed failed to pass in the statehouse last year. Obama’s visit will fall a day after Branstad formally unveils his revamped “Connect Every Acre” plan, which would offer incentives aimed at ensuring Iowa farmers have mobile broadband access in fields where they run increasingly high-tech agricultural machinery.

Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said in a statement Saturday: “We appreciate that President Obama recognizes Governor Branstad’s work to make Iowa a leader in connecting its citizens, main street businesses, schools and agriculture to high-speed broadband internet. In this legislative session, the governor will continue to aggressively pursue legislation that positions Iowa for the future by connecting every acre of the state through high-speed broadband internet.”

Two-thirds of rural Iowans, or 66 percent, subscribe to broadband service at home, below the average of 75 percent of Iowans in cities and suburbs, according to a state report issued in 2013. In addition, only about 40 percent of rural Iowans subscribe to mobile broadband service through a cellphone or mobile device, compared with 53 percent for urban and suburban Iowans.

A lack of quality, affordable broadband service in parts of rural Iowa hurts efforts by communities to attract economic development and to improve access to education, health care and social services, state officials have said.

Planning in Cedar Falls for the president’s arrival has been underway for at least a couple of days. Hotel rooms were booked for advance staff and Secret Service, and meetings have been held with law enforcement, firefighters and public works staff, city officials told the Register.

Obama hasn’t been in Iowa since 2012. He wrapped up his re-election campaign with a rally in downtown Des Moines the night before the vote. Iowa has been a crucial factor in three of the president’s victories: Democrats gave him the No. 1 slot in the presidential caucuses in 2008; he trounced Republican John McCain in Iowa in that year’s general election by 10 points; and he beat rival Mitt Romney by 6 points here in 2012.

Obama was last in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area in August 2012, when he held a campaign event in downtown Waterloo. Beforehand, he popped in at the Pump Haus in Cedar Falls for a Bud Light and an impromptu half-hour chat with bar patrons.

In the wake of the November 2014 elections, when the GOP seized control of both the U.S. House and Senate, Obama has been dropping in on states around the country to make pitches for his proposals, several of which will also be featured in his Jan. 20 State of the Union address. He was in Tennessee on Friday to talk about a proposal called “America’s College Promise,” which would provide two years of taxpayer-funded education at a community college free for students who earn at least a 2.5 grade point average and stay on track to graduate. The idea is to make college as universal as high school, and to let students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and skills needed for the workforce, the White House said. A full-time student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year.

On Thursday, Obama was in Arizona to push for plans to lower some mortgage insurance premiums, which he said would save homeowners $900 a year and attract 250,000 first-time buyers. The Federal Housing Administration will reduce annual mortgage insurance premiums by 0.5 percentage points, from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent. It would mean a healthier housing market, he said.

This week, in addition to broadband access, Obama will focus on cyberspace issues such as identity theft and electronic privacy.

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