There was a time five years ago when you were legally obliged to mention Chaska, Minn., when writing about city-wide Wi-Fi: The small town was an early entrant into the idea of dealing with local broadband market failure to let residents jump from dial-up to a semblance of high-speed Internet. In some cities, like Lompoc, Calif., which launched efforts around the same time, cable and telco firms stepped up and made the Wi-Fi networks nearly unnecessary for indoor use.
Chaska.net still operates, however, although the operation is servicing debt and not accruing capital, which is the goal; current expenses aren't mentioned, but the setup costs were $3.3m, including $1m in fiber expense, the article in the Chaska Herald reports.
The network doesn't deliver just Wi-Fi in the city, but is part of a backbone that brings point-to-multipoint wireless broadband to smaller towns nearby, and to 36 business customers in town.
Chaska has a fairly stable base of about 2,100 subscribers, the article notes, expecting just a net add of 60 per year in the future. That's a huge uptake for a town that in 2000 has 24,000, which likely means 5,000 to 8,000 households. Subscriptions would likely be higher except the ability to get a signal isn't uniform across the town, which is true of all wireless systems, but Wi-Fi's low power limits makes it particularly susceptible.
Chaska was used by Tropos as its poster child when that firm was out trying to persuade firms and cities that high-quality "mesh" networks could be built for indoor and outdoor service using 20 to 25 nodes per square mile. Chaska never lived up to its marketing in those early days, and, Tropos at one point (apparently at its own cost) swapped out all the initial nodes installed in the city. I wrote rather heatedly about what I viewed as misleading information provided back on 12 June 2006.
It's nice to see that things worked out in Chaska. I should also note that this story, written by a local reporter, is the best example of local journalism looking at these sorts of networks that I've read in six years of covering municipal and metro-scale Wi-Fi.