Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Arcata firm bringing Internet to mountain communities

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013 - 7:45 am

High-speed wireless providers are brawling on the floor of the Sacramento Valley, but until now, tens of thousands of people up in the foothills couldn't even find one reliable carrier.

Broadband transmitters have to be within sight of each other to communicate, and dense forests, canyons and hills made that virtually impossible in Camino, Cool and other Gold Country hamlets. Three years ago, though, the Federal Communications Commission opened up some unused TV broadcast frequencies for unlicensed use.

When this so-called TV white space was unlocked, Arcata's Carlson Wireless began experimenting around the nation with equipment to take advantage of it. Now it's ready to be deployed by rural Internet providers, including Cal.net of Shingle Springs, which is offering high-speed wireless service from El Dorado Hills to Pollock Pines, from Auburn to Jackson.

"The technology is brand-new and it's very unique. It's providing a capability that's never existed before and bringing Internet to people's homes," said Ken Garnett, chief technology officer at Cal.net. "There are hundreds of thousands of people in California who still cannot get the Internet. Across the country, millions can't get Internet."

Cal.net has received hundreds of inquiries about the service, which costs about $55 a month, Garnett said, but it is deploying slowly as it monitors penetration, speed and performance.

Giant telecommunications companies have sought to acquire TV white space, said James Carlson, the chief executive of Carlson Wireless, but he hopes that as more and more people gain access, the public will make the case to keep the unlicensed spectrum.

A legacy, house by house

As a student at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, Erica Cunningham would drive to midtown Sacramento, walk around its tree-lined streets for hours and take snapshots of homes she admired.

"I moved downtown and got my first studio apartment when I was 17," she said. "I'm totally entrenched in downtown and the neighborhoods and the people that live here. … I think I was drawn by the neighborhoods, the architecture, just the feeling."

The 31-year-old Cunningham is now leaving her mark on Sacramento. Along with her husband, Nathan Cunningham, she has built or renovated 35 homes in distinctive neighborhoods such as east Sacramento, Land Park, Boulevard Park and Newton Booth. Private investors fund their projects.

"I find the properties," Cunningham said. "I'll negotiate the purchases of the land or the home, and then I usually work with the architect to design the home and go through the entitlement and permitting process, and then basically hand the approved set of plans to my husband, and he takes it from there.

"He builds the home, and I work with him on the design and finishes throughout. He hands me the keys at the end, and then I take it and put it on the market and sell it for us. … We really have a passion for building and improving with each home and each new design."

Their Indie Capital real estate brokerage and construction company has partnered frequently with architect Stephen Henry of Henry + Associates Architects. The Newton Booth Neighborhood Association recently recognized the architect and developer for their "Triangle Residence" built at 28th and V streets. The duplex is for sale, as is IndieCap's home at 309 20th St. in Boulevard Park.

"The triangle shape is really interesting because it's sort of an unusual shape," Henry said. "You don't get that in plan too often, that you're challenged by such a shape, but it actually turned out something really fun to work with. And we came up with a motif that is sort of like a ship."

The upstairs residence at 28th and V features a memorable triangle island produced by Nathan Cunningham's younger brother, Colin, who describes himself as a handyman.

"He's really an artisan," Henry said. "We have a blog on our website, and one of the blogs is a picture of him in the middle of doing the fabrication of this counter. He … pours the countertops upside down with this special concrete material and then turns it over and polishes it with a grinder and uses a sealer on it. And it comes out looking like Carrara marble or something."

Call The Bee's Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow him on Twitter @cathiea_sacbee.

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