“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.