Tag Archives: anza

California rural electric co-op gets $1.8 million to extend FTTH service

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Another 413 homes in small, desert communities in Riverside County are getting high speed, fiber to the home service, via the Anza Electric Cooperative and a grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). The California Public Utilities Communities approved a $1.8 million subsidy – $4,300 per home, amounting to 70% of the total cost – extending an earlier CASF-funded FTTH project that reached 3,750 customers in the co-op’s core service area in the Anza Valley.

The new build covers the Pinyon community and the Santa Rosa Reservation, but it skips over Mountain Center and Garner Valley, because Frontier Communications upgraded its service in the area. It’s receiving federal money to deliver broadband service at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, and was able to demonstrate that its VDSL upgrade was delivering around 20 Mbps down/2 Mbps up, at least to some homes. That’s on the low end of what VDSL technology is capable of delivering, but it’s more than enough to make Mountain Center and Garner Valley ineligible for California subsidies.

In the communities that are eligible, Frontier relies on 1990s style DSL technology which generally runs at about 2 Mbps down and less than 1 Mbps up, where it’s available at all. It told the CPUC it wouldn’t make any more service without CASF subsidies of its own. Which it won’t get because Anza Electric Co-op moved faster.

People in communities to the east and west, though, are – or soon will be – getting access to symmetrical speeds of up to 1 Gbps. The co-op’s flagship consumer package is symmetrical 50 Mbps speeds for $49 per month, with a $25 per month, 10 Mbps down and up offer to low income households. There’s no commitment or bundling required for either package (although an unlimited domestic phone line can be had for another $20 per month).

FTTH expansion proposed for Riverside County desert communities

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Anza Electric Cooperative wants to expand its fiber-to-the-home system in southwestern Riverside County. After being awarded a $2.7 million FTTH infrastructure grant from the California Advanced Services Fund in 2015, Anza used its existing electric plant as the backbone for a fiber network aimed at reaching 3,800 homes in its service territory.

Now, it’s asking the California Public Utilities Commission for another $2.2 million, to reach 1,200 more homes and "several businesses", and provide free service to fire stations and the Ronald McDonald camp for kids with cancer According to the public version of its grant application summary

Connect Anza will deploy a fiber optic cable on existing poles and rights of way and establish a network of sufficient capacity to establish high speed, quality internet service for Anza Electric Cooperatives (AEC’s) existing service territory covering over 500 square miles, located wholly within western Riverside County. The area encompasses the communities of Mountain Center, Pinyon Pines, and Garner Valley which totals approximately 200 square miles of our service territory…

Connect Anza, as an integral part of AEC, will provide reliable, affordable broadband high speed, Fiber-ToThe-Home (FTTH) internet service to its member-owners at the lowest possible cost. Connect Anza will offer speeds of 50Mb/s both down and up to residents at a price point of $49.00 per month with no cap or limits. AEC will also offer VoIP service including CASF e911 requirements at a monthly rate of $20.

There’s one big difference between this project and Anza’s previous one: the first time around, it was going head to head with Verizon, which paid virtually no attention to its own wireline telephone systems, let alone potential competitors.

Since then, Frontier Communications has taken over those systems, including the ones that don’t offer even 1990’s legacy DSL in most of Anza Electric’s territory. The relatively few areas where broadband service is offered, speeds don’t reach the CPUC’s minimum of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. In contrast to Verizon, Frontier aggressively, and increasingly beligerently, challenges CASF grant proposals that pose a competitive threat to its monopoly control of, at best, poorly served areas of rural California. It won’t be so pleasant this time around.

Cooperative broadband is rare, but successful in California

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Rural utility cooperatives have gotten a lot of good ink recently, as a possible alternative to investor-owned broadband companies. Although it’s a business model that’s far more common in the U.S. midwest and south, it’s been successful in California too. At least as far it goes – there are only three rural utility co-ops here.

Anza Electric co-op in Riverside County is in the process of building a fiber to the home system using a grant from the California Advanced Services Fund. By FTTH standards, it’s an inexpensive build – about $1,200 per household, total – primarily due to the fact that Anza already owns the necessary poles and conduit.

Plumas-Sierra Electric co-op has subsidiary that’s a wireless Internet service provider serving parts of Plumas and Sierra counties, and a bit of Lassen County. It’s tried for CASF in the past, too, although it ultimately withdrew its application. The third rural California co-op – Surprise Valley in Modoc County – isn’t in the broadband business, but two of three isn’t bad.

Rural utility co-ops are creatures of the federal agriculture department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS). It’s one of three basic utility business models, the other two being investor owned utilities, like PG&E, and municipal utilities.

The investor owned variety predominates here, but where there are exceptions, California tends toward muni electric utilities – either cities, like Palo Alto or Santa Clara, or special districts, like the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District. Californian muni electric utilities have been largely successful when they’ve dipped a toe in the broadband business, particularly as dark fiber providers, although there is one big exception – Alameda had to sell its cable system at a loss.

Elsewhere in the U.S., there are rural utility co-ops that are in the telephone business. In California, small rural phone companies fill that niche in the eco-system.

The co-op business model has also been used for middle mile projects. Digital 395 is owned by the California Broadband Cooperative and was funded by an ARRA stimulus grant, and there’s another – the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative – in Virginia, funded by tobacco settlement money. However, those are not the traditional, federal agriculture department sponsored utility co-ops.

The cooperative business model is very effective, when it suits local circumstances. The RUS-backed version, though, isn’t a viable way of creating a competitive service – if there’s an incumbent provider, that option is off the table for all practical purposes.

Anza FTTH project approved for funding by CPUC

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

The Anza Electric Cooperative will get $2.7 million from the California Advanced Services Fund to build a fiber to the home system throughout its service area in western Riverside County. The California Public Utilities Commission approved the grant at its meeting on thursday. According to the resolution

This project is economical and provides a wide benefit. The CASF per-household subsidy is $710 per household (based on 3,751 households that will have access). This state subsidy, when compared to previous subsidies provided through the CASF program for fiber projects, is low. The number of households that Anza proposes to pass would be the fourth largest CASF last-mile project in terms of households served and the area served in terms of square miles would be the highest for all approved CASF last-mile projects.

Only one protest was received, from a resident served by the co-op who didn’t like the project. She was one of only a few who felt that way, though: according to the co-op, 91% of voting members – i.e. customers – said yes to the project when the question was put to them.

As it stands, the Federal Communications Commission will be giving a competing subsidy to Frontier Communications – something like $1.6 million, by my rough estimate – to upgrade the decaying Verizon system in the area to provide DSL service at 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up levels. By contrast, the Anza co-op will offer symmetrical fiber-based service, starting at 50 Mbps for $50 per month. The CPUC’s resolution doesn’t mention the conflict, but it doesn’t really need to do so: the FCC’s rural standard doesn’t meet Californian minimums which require at least 1.5 Mbps upload speeds as well as 6 Mbps down.

Broadband subsidies collide in the California desert

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Up, down, who cares? This is as fast as I go.

The 3,800 homes in the Anza area of Riverside County are a big step closer to getting fiber to the home broadband service from the local electric cooperative. The California Public Utilities Commission published a draft decision on Friday giving the Anza Electric Cooperative a $2.7 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to pay for 60% of the project.

The project is remarkable for two reasons. First, the subsidy cost per household is only $710, something like an order of magnitude less than typical CASF-funded FTTH projects. That’s the advantage of working with an incumbent service provider – albeit electric service – that already has access to utility poles and right of ways, an established customer base, and the people and equipment to make it all work.

The second reason invokes more controversy than the first, though. The Anza area has also been targeted by the Federal Communications Commission for a similar sized subsidy from the Connect America Fund program. I haven’t crunched all the numbers, but just looking at the town of Anza itself, which accounts for fewer than a third of the households in the project area, the FCC has put something in the neighborhood of $1.6 million on the table. And Frontier Communications has said it will take that money up, if it’s allowed to buy the Verizon copper system that provides telephone, but not DSL, service in the area.

My numbers are rough, but in the ball park. The CAF estimate for the town of Anza is based on the average per-premise subsidy offered by the FCC in Riverside County and discounts the six annual payments at a rate of 5%. You can shift those assumptions pretty far either way, though, and still reach the essential conclusion: the CPUC and the FCC could each give a few million dollars to two different, and ultimately competing, service providers to upgrade broadband infrastructure in the Anza area.

The CPUC is getting the better bargain, though. Anza Electric is promising to deliver 50 Mbps down and up to homes for $50 per month, and as much as 500 Mbps down and up to commercial customers. Assuming the fiber network is intelligently engineered, service could be upgraded as far as necessary for decades to come. The FCC, on the other hand, is only requiring Frontier to deliver 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up, and charge whatever the going rate is in urban areas. Which isn’t likely to be much less than what Anza proposes to charge for 50 megs each way, and could very well be more.

Even if the copper system was magically upgraded to the FCC standard before the CPUC’s expected vote on the project next month, it wouldn’t change anything. Unless an area has service available at 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up, it’s eligible for CASF subsidies. The FCC’s standard fails on the upload side.

If the tables were turned, the CPUC standard would fail on the download side, but Anza is proposing something way beyond the minimum. From a taxpayer’s standpoint, the rational thing to do would be for the FCC to pull its offer, contingent on performance by Anza Electric, and spend its subsidy money elsewhere in California.

Cooperative FTTH looks like a low cost option for a lucky few in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Southwestern Riverside County just got in line for a fiber to the home (FTTH) upgrade. The Anza Electric Cooperative submitted an application for $2.8 million from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to run fiber alongside its existing electric system…

Connect Anza will deploy a fiber optic cable on existing poles and rights of way and establish a network of sufficient capacity to establish high speed, quality internet service for Anza Electric Cooperatives existing service territory covering over 500 square miles, located wholly within western Riverside County. The area encompasses the communities of Anza, Aguanga, Mountain Center, Pinyon Pines, and Garner Valley.

Rural electric cooperatives are rare in California (there are three) but are common elsewhere in the U.S., particularly in the the midwest and south. It’s a business model developed during the Franklin Roosevelt administration and has extended to telecommunications cooperatives, which are often, but not always, built around electric co-ops.

That approach has a couple of advantages. First, rural cooperatives are the preferred business model for the federal Rural Utilities Service, the arm of the agriculture department that handles broadband grants and loans. That institutional bias is a major reason California has been shut out of federal broadband grants in recent years. But that’s not a problem for Anza, or for the other two – Plumas-Sierra (which is also applying for CASF money) and Surprise Valley in Modoc County.

Second, if you already own the poles, conduit and other outside plant that goes along with an electric utility, then your FTTH construction costs go way down, particularly in rural areas. Anza’s total project cost is pegged at $4.7 million. If you assume that it’ll reach all 3,900 premises currently served by the cooperative – it’s not entirely clear from the publicly released information that’s the case, but let’s assume so for the moment – then the total cost is about $1,200 per premise and the subsidised portion of that is about $700. That’s a tenth of the typical CASF subsidy request for FTTH projects, and a hundredth – a penny on the dollar – of the high end of the range.