Chaska Citizens & Council Question Muni WiFi

A while back, I made a big stink about how the “Poster Boy” of Muni Wireless, Chaska Minnesota, was having trouble with their network’s performance. My beef wasn’t so much that a new technology has to go through some hurdles to get mature, but more because the proponents of the network had painted such a rosy picture of the network for two years running, only to leak information that it actually performed poorly for the first 18 months “but now is good”. I said there was a “credibility gap” from those proponents. So I was labelled a telco shill in a discussion at But my problem wasnt’t with the politics of a municipal government competing with telcos, it’s with the mis-use of the wrong technology (Wi-Fi) to do so – like bringing a knife to a gunfight. So here’s an update: the Chaska Herald reported this month that there has been a “barrage of complaints about the city’s wireless Internet service”, and that at a town meeting, Councilor Gino Businaro asked, “Are we marketing a product that we can’t deliver?”. The paper then encourages feedback from readers, who have mixed reviews. Basically, if you live under an access point, you like, if you live elsewhere, you don’t. I feel sorry for Chaska citizens. I think they were sold a bill of goods, and the salesmen have moved on to greener pastures…and to add insult to injury, are using Chaska as a success reference case. (pdf link).

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Comments on “Chaska Citizens & Council Question Muni WiFi”

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Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Get On The Plane

Thanks for the note, Glenn. Interesting to see the Novarum audit results. I’ve met Biba and Belanger before, and both are fairly personally invested in Muni Wi-Fi. But it’s good to see that the citizens there might be getting some good hot zones.

Ultimately, it looks like I would need to get on a plane, and check it out myself to really know whether it’s great or terrible, or maybe somewhere in between. It seems like all reports are always bi-polar — either one extreme or the other.

Glenn Fleishman (profile) says:

My mistake: Brad Mayer went to work for EarthLink

Colleagues noted that I said that “Chaska’s tech guy went to work for Tropos,” and I was in error — I should have checked my notes. Brad Mayer went to work with EarthLink, which, while it uses Tropos gear, too, had no and has no interest in the Chaska rollout except to see what worked and what didn’t. Mayer has a lot to say about that early period, and why what was reported didn’t match what the officials were saying, but he can post that here if he spots this.

In terms of Biba and Belanger being personally invested in muni Wi-Fi — not sure I would describe it that way, based on their backgrounds. They both continue to sound rather suspicious of it, and have published some incredibly critical early results from their surveys. Chaska got gold stars, but other well-known networks have big gaps in service and performance. They also are being pretty clear that they think you need 40 nodes per square mile for adequate coverage, and that increases the financial pressure on service providers in terms of expectations and expenses.

I, too, have wanted to take a trip to Chaska!

Bert Williams says:

There He Goes Again

Once again, Derek Kerton writes about Chaska and, once again, he says things that simply aren’t supported by the facts.

What is both insulting and injurious, not to mention just plain wrong, is Derek’s statement, “…the salesmen [i.e., Tropos Networks, provider of the mesh networking equipment and software used by Chaska] have moved on to greener pastures….” Tropos remains engaged with the team, supporting them when questions or issues arise, which they do in Chaska, as they do in any network using any technology.

Yes, we point to Chaska as a success story. We do so because it’s a damn good network, not perfect, mind you, but damn good and we’re proud of it. (Aside to Derek: You’ll note that the case study has been updated to reflect the additional investment that Chaska made in the network. You correctly chastised us on this point during our last go round.)

So what’s really happening in Chaska? On February 12, the last day for which I have data, 2443 unique users accessed the network, with a peak of 1783 simultaneous users. They uploaded 67GB and downloaded 160GB of data. That download is the equivalent of 1.6 million typical web pages! Clearly, a lot of people are doing a lot with the Chaska network. For some anecdotes from Chaska and other Tropos-powered networks, go to

Overall, Chaska has more than 2300 registered users (some registered users have more than one MAC address and show up as more than one unique user in our stats). This number has been pretty constant for the last nine months. Remember that Chaska users are not under contract – they can cancel at any time. Given this, if the network had a large number of dissatisfied users, you would expect the number of registered users to decline. It has not.

I don’t dispute that a small minority of Chaska residents are not fully satisfied with the service. But if you remove and insert the name of the cable company, the phone company, the cellular carriers, etc., the statement would also be true. And, as the numbers above indicate, the vast majority of users are successfully using the network. We at Tropos continue to work with the team to please an even higher percentage of their subscribers.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am the Vice President of Marketing for Tropos Networks.

Bradley Mayer says:

Visit to Chaska

I just wanted to quickly comment both Glenn and Derek’s comments on making a visit to Chaska. I would encourage both of them to make a trip up north and check it out for themselves … seeing is believing! (I would however recommend waiting until at least April, its cold up there this time of the year … and yes my skin has thinned living down South :-))

While I no longer have any involvement with the Chaska network, I continue to defend the concept, deployment, operation, and success of that network. Being the first in the Country to develop this novel concept of Muni WiFI was certainly challenging to me personally and I take pride in the success it has achieved over the years.

While some of my comments have been mis-interpreted and mis-quoted, I have never waivered on my support of that network and in the belief in the technology used to build it. Did it have growing pains? Absolutely, it was the first of its kind ever! Did cell phones have their problems in the beginning? Absolutely (In fact I dare say that 20 or so years into cell phone deployment, I still do not have signal on my phone sitting here tonight writing this email from the 18th floor of my hotel in a major US city)!

During all of the early deployment and right up until the day I moved on from Chaska, I always encouraged and welcomed ANYONE to Chaska to talk about the deployment and visit the network to see for themselves how it worked and how well it worked. I continue to share that passion about it and would be more than happy to return there to personally meet with Derek and Glenn and fully discuss and demonstrate that networks success.

Again, seeing is believing!

Derek Kerton (profile) says:



Thanks for the interesting stats. It’s clear that the network is moving a lot of data. But the stats don’t speak to the quality of the service, and with respect to people able to vote with their feet, we’ve seen in the past stats that churn is high at

And kudos for updating the case, although I must admit to not having re-read it.

Really, there are two sides on this debate, and the city/Tropos side has all the data but also has bias, and my side is negative but isn’t in Chaska and is working with partial information. That’s not to say I’m backing down, just that I’d like to see more transparent testing like that Glenn reported from Novarum.

Going to Chaska would help me get a grip on the real performance, but really would only be one man’s experience. Most of all, I’d love to see an independent (auditors) satisfaction survey of current and past subscribers. I’d love to do it myself even more. If a town would be willing to give me a fair pool of subjects, I’d run a web survey.

Brad, I can sense your enthusiasm, and one thing I can say that brings Bert, Techdirt, you and I together is that we all want to see more Internet, in more places, at lower prices. Whatever our biases, our politics, or whatever, more is better and ubiquitous fast Internet will be a world-changer. If I’m wrong about muni-wi-fi, I’ll be mostly happy.

Glenn Fleishman (profile) says:

Worth noting that Novarum found Chaska's coverage

It’s worth noting that the folks at Novarum tested Chaska’s network recently and found it superb–achieved through a combination of high-node density and few obstructions.

Novarum is Ken Biba (ex-Vivato head) and Phil Belanger. Belanger worked for BelAir for a few years, and thus would be perhaps not entirely predisposed to want Tropos installations to be ranked the highest. But the numbers, he said, don’t lie, and Tropos installations are among the better large-scale Wi-Fi networks out there.

They’ve released some of their results. I, too, was critical of how Chaska was advertised when it was clear that there were problems that were underreported. Chaska’s tech guy went to work for Tropos, later.

J.K. says:

It's been years now...

I’ve now been a customer for years and i do live right under an access point, i still haven’t gotten any good service from them. i’m addicted to the low price. it’s kinda sad though, most of what i can do on it is just email… if i want to have any fun on the net i have to pack up my laptop and head over to my parents house(they have a different provider… and again i live right under an access point). i don’t know if chaska net needs more access points, more server space, or better trained Techies but i do know that if their going to get into net-trafficking they will need to treat it more like a real business and less like just another F@#$ing utility!!!!!

John says:

Chaska still online?

I live there and, yes, the network is still up and running. From my point of view, however, I’d have to say I’ve been disappointed with it. Now I don’t live right next to an access point, mine is at the end of the block, but I’ve never had satisfactory results from using it. I’m just out of college and currently live at home but I keep telling my parents that I want them to get something better. I tried to download a program yesterday and the dl speed went literally below 1 kb/s. I finally convinced them to look into other options so that’s what I’m doing now.

JP says:

Problems inherent in service, but still want to support municipal

I’ve had internet through my cable, got netflix, then hated tv, moved to chaska, just wanted internet. My options were to get internet seperate through comcast cable, which was already hooked up for $60ish / month, or $50 for 2nd gen phoneline through Embarq. Went with Embarq for a while. It was consistent at 1.5 Mb/s. I found out about from the neighbor. Went to for $30 / month for an equivalent data rate through wireless. Reception is up and down from three to five bars. Netflix “hangs” often. Bought a new tv that is netflix enabled. It works a lot faster than my PS3 did for some reason. Still hangs occasionally. Downside is that requires the user to login periodically. The tv doesnot have a browser built-in. Often refused service because I am logged out. Have to start-up PS3 or computer or use phone to log in after tv fails to connect. I make dinner and sit down to watch. Takes a couple of minutes to start something else up and login. Used to make the food get cold. Now, the baby is crying and I don’t have time to login cause the little one is priority #1. Frustrating. Going to call and see if I can’t get into the settings of bridge like I do with my router, and enable it to automatically login for me perhaps. My login info never changes. I understand that people need to be logged out to update the site or servers or whatever. But, if would just enable the bridge to auto-login, they could fix this denial of service problem from the user side. All I think it would require is a software update for the bridge. If not, I’ll be shopping for new internet cause the routine is getting old. I would keep if not for this. I would pay 10 or 20 $ more to have normal service. Honestly, could charge a little more money and still be competitive. They could then invest in upgrading their infrastructure or service. I don’t think they have budgeted for it properly. If I could vote for a tax levy to support an upgrade, I would. Wireless is awesome, and municipal is a great idea, and I would hate to see it go. Other than state the obvious, how can I help you, ?

TTopp says:

chaskanet SUX!!!

I have been a customer for 10 years. I have had issues this summer. The tech folks gave me ample phone time/diagnostic time to solve my problem. I ALWAYS have trouble. I get a “couldn’t connect to the DNS server” as a reason whenever my NEW computer tells me a webpage is not available. I got a new bridge and a new router and still no success. I spent HOURS on the phone with the tech guys trying to assess and correct the problem. Only to be told by what appeared to be the lead tech that “it must be my router”…seriously, I have a Belkin router that 6 of my neighbors have–sorry that isn’t it and for a tech support guy to pass it off on Belkin seems stupid! After multiple attempts at phone diagnostics, I asked for a tech to be sent out. I was job hunting and moving my family and needed good connectivity. THEY DIDN’T EVEN HAVE THE DECENCY TO REPLY TO MY EMAIL!!! I have been trying to resume, interview and house hunt with the worst wireless in the state and my city won’t even respond to my needs.
Its tremendously disheartening to be ignored by a company you have been loyal to for years when they might actually have to SHOW UP and help. I would tell anyone who would listen that its easily worth the extra money to bypass Chaskanet and go with a truly professional, larger company. This is coming from someone who will always pay more to stay local and keep community businesses going.

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