Most of the service area for ConnectAnza, which shows all of the Phase 2 (in gray) straddling Highway 74 from Deep Canyon to Mountain Center.
Map courtesy ConnectAnza

Members of the Anza Electric Cooperative, which services Aguanga, Anza, Pinyon down to UC Riverside’s Deep Canyon Reserve, and Garner Valley to Mountain Center (covering more than 500 square miles), voted in 2015 to move forward with an ambitious project to bring “fiber-to-the-home” high-speed fiber optic internet to its member-owners. The new internet service is being called ConnectAnza.

Phase 1 of implementation began in 2015 with large parts of Anza and Aguanga online and other neighborhoods being built out now. But for members along the Highway 74 scenic byway, the wait continues as AEC works to get the California Public Utilities Commission to approve Phase 2 of the project.

AEC General Manager Kevin Short met with CPUC representatives on Aug. 2 to tour the Phase 1 project area and parts of the Phase 2 area, which straddles Highway 74 from Deep Canyon at the base of the Santa Rosas to Mountain Center.

Because of the scenic byway, ConnectAnza is required to undergo a California Environmental Quality Act review. “When we’re proposing putting fiber optic wire on existing poles with existing wires, the CPUC still determines that is a new structure,” Short explained, prompting CEQA jurisdiction.

He said the cable being installed is about a half-inch in diameter. “The majority of our poles and cables are not even visible from the highway,” he said.

Like Phase 1, Phase 2 would be funded primarily by a California Advanced Services Fund grant. CASF has identified rural areas within AEC’s coverage as priority areas. Phase 2 (which covers about 200 square miles) will cost about $3,689,000, with $2,213,420 in CASF funding and $1,475,613 coming from ConnectAnza.

ConnectAnza will offer speeds of 50 megabits per second of unlimited data at $49 per month. Short is optimistic that the speed can expand to 1 gigabit per second within a year of being up and running.

ConnectAnza also provides free service to the area’s fire stations and will offer free service to Camp Ronald McDonald in Mountain Center, which serves children with cancer and their families.

The main existing service provider for the area is Frontier, which acquired Verizon’s internet customers two years ago. When ConnectAnza applied for the funding, Frontier filed an appeal. But with the CASF requirements, Short explained, Frontier must show it can soon offer at least 6 megabits per second download speed and 1.5 megabits per second upload.

For one Garner Valley Frontier customer, myself, the upload speed on May 26 was 0.30 megabits per second and 1.07 mbps download. Frontier charges $20 per month for internet when bundled with its Frontier Freedom Plan with a $30-per-month phone service, making total the monthly charge after taxes and fees $61.66.

Short is optimistic that with enough input from residents and after his meeting with the CPUC, the project will be deemed worthy and funding will come through.

He said he expects a decision from the CPUC within a month or two. Once Phase 2 gets the OK, and the CASF grant comes in, he said work could begin right away with some areas up as soon as two months from then. The grant allows two years maximum to complete the project.

Short created a change.org petition for anyone within the district to show their support. It can be found at www.change.org/p/california-public-utilities-commission-approve-connectanza-phase-2-casf-grant. Letters of support or concern are also welcome to kevin@anzaelectric.org or by mail to ConnectAnza P.O. Box 391909, Anza, CA 92539.

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