The days could be numbered for Chaska.net.
Officials in the small community outside of Minnesota's Twin Cities reportedly are deciding whether it's worth investing millions of dollars into one of America's first municipal Wi-Fi networks.
The city of Chaska became an Internet service provider in 1998 and launched its citywide mesh Wi-Fi network covering 16 square miles in 2004, well before most cities tried such an endeavor. The service was cheap then at only $16 month, and is only a few bucks more today.
But some people in town say you get what you pay for, with slow connections and dead spots being a common problem for a Wi-Fi network that’s showing its age. Some citizens are frustrated that the wireless portion of Chaska.net is not fast enough to support modern conveniences like Skype, and it isn’t able to adequately support households that connect multiple devices online.
Chaska.net needs a major overhaul to stay current with private carriers that are pushing high-speed Internet to smartphones and other devices. A local report from Watchdog.org this week pegged the price tag for the upgrades at $2.5 million to $3 million, a significant amount considering the subscriber base has decreased to 1,400 accounts. Approximately $3.3 million has been spent on the municipal network over the years.
City council members and Chaska's city administrator are questioning if the wireless network is needed any longer, given that there are other options residents and businesses can turn to for high-speed Internet. At least one council member has floated the idea of selling off Chaska.net's wireless business to a private investor.
A decision isn't expected until next year, but one city council member told Watchdog.org that, “It’s at a point where we need to decide if we want to because we have to pony up some money to bring it up, and I really think we’re leaning toward not doing that.”
Learn more about how Chaska.net was built in this Digital Communities profile.