Chaska Reconsidering Commuinty Wi-Fi

According to WatchDog, Chaska.net (a community run broadband service provider since 2004) is considering its options as upgrades are required to their infrastructure…

“It’s less about should we sell Chaska.net and it’s more do we reinvest into that next level of technology or do we think our goal of being a connected community has been met?,” said Chaska City Administrator Matt Podhradsky. “Are there enough private sector options where it doesn’t make sense as a public sector entity to move into providing a next level service?”

Chaska.net now serves 1,400 subscribers, or about 13 percent of the southwestern Twin Cities suburb’s households, down 33 percent from a peak of 2,100 customers a few years ago.  Billed as the first municipal Internet utility in the country, Chaska.net started out providing fiber optic high speed service for the city, schools and some businesses back in the dark ages of the worldwide web — 1998.

The article goes on to provide some financial details…

The muni-network breaks about even on annual operating expenses, but has spent $3.3 million on technology infrastructure since its inception, including $2.1 million for dozens of WiFi cells and other equipment for the wireless system.  Officials say those funds came from the city’s electric utility and were partially offset by an unspecified amount of in-kind broadband services provided to city offices and operations.

Now city hall faces a daunting $2.5 to $3 million bill to upgrade the system by 2015 to meet technical support requirements from the manufacturer.  The deadline prompted the community to reexamine the feasibility of operating a citywide WiFi network that could siphon city funds needed for other priorities.

It will be interesting to see what they decide. I know that Chaska has been innovative in their use of wireless, such as equipping school buses with wireless access. Chaska is close to the Twin Cities, so I suspect there are more options for providers than there were in 2004. But you have to wonder what role the community network has played in making Chaska more attractive to a commercial provider. And will they look to an outside vendor for their government network as well. It seems as if providing their own government network may be a piece of the financial snapshot that we don’t get from the WatchDog article.

This entry was posted in Community Networks, MN, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

3 thoughts on “Chaska Reconsidering Commuinty Wi-Fi

  1. I am interested in learning more about “all the choices” available to Chaska residents. A visit to Connect MN shows two residential wired providers – CenturyLink and Comcast. Neither comes close to matching the municipal wireless price tag. A cellular data plan costs much more and has data caps. If each of the 1,400 current subscribers switched to Comcast, their bill would rise from $16 to $50.

    Here is the community impact of lost local dollars – $34 monthly loss x 1,400 subscribers x 12 months = $571,200 leaving the community to Comcast shareholders. Multiply that by 10 years of the equipment life; the total is almost six million dollars – twice the capital expense.

    You can also safely assume that the new equipment will have enhanced speeds that the current technology which would probably increase the subscriber base, thereby increasing the community benefit.

    Then assume that the municipal employees that now use the wi-fi network will be buying aircards from a cellular provider at $30 per month. Assuming 50 aircards x 30 per month x 12 months – that equals 18,000 annual increased expense for the city.

    Chaska, as a historic Minnesota River town with a real downtown and beautiful setting, has an opportunity to continue to position itself as a great small town. Community Wi-Fi and tech leadership could be a part of that branding.

    BTW, using general fund municipal funds to pay for municipal recreation facilities is not “subsidizing”, it’s called healthy living!

  2. The funding for network build, upgrade and maintenance comes from all citizens of Chaska regardless if the want to subscribe or not. Makes healthy sense to me…NOT!

  3. Great response! WiFi has evolved in the nine years since 2005 and I would assume equipment costs have fallen. First generation implementations are always the most expensive, but as technology becomes more popular, volumes go up, prices drop, while speeds increase. If this were to be a 10 year cycle and ChaskaNet could boost the speed enough to entice more users and hold them for the next 10 year cycle, everybody would win.

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