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Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 27 February 2009 15:07

Republicans Call for Selling the ICN

House Republicans this week called for the state to sell or lease the Iowa Communications Network (ICN), the state’s aging fiber-optic network that started in the 1980s with Iowa’s community colleges and was built into a statewide network in the 1990s.

The technology is dramatically outdated, and we end up spending tens of millions of dollars every single year on something that quite frankly, really doesn’t have that much more capability than plugging your computer into the wall and hooking up to the Internet," Paulsen said.

Paulsen said it’s time for the state to get rid of the ICN and get out of that business. He said maybe the ICN does have some value and the state could make some money by selling it, although he said he had no idea what it’s worth. He also said that if the ICN can’t be sold, he feels that it should simply be shut down.

The truth of the matter is the technology hasn’t kept up, and we have far less expensive options than the ICN,” Paulsen said. “At a bare minimum, it cuts out -- I think last year, we spent $25 million on something that’s outdated and of marginal value.”

The idea of selling the ICN has come up in the legislature many times in the past. It resurfaced Thursday as an amendment to House File 414, the deappropriations and supplemental-budget bill. House Republicans said the budget-cutting idea was one of several offered through a Web site aimed at soliciting ideas from the public.

It’s basically to determine whether or not this is a feasible opportunity," said Representative Dwayne Alons (R-Hull). "It is something that we do own, and as the majority party said earlier, they were willing to look at everything, put it on the table and to consider the situation in this tough budget year to see if we can come up with assets we might be able to let go and let the private sector do it better. This is an asset, it should be on the table, and we should allow the free-market system to determine what is the best direction for the ICN.”

Representative Doris Kelley (D-Waterloo), a telecommunications consultant, agreed that it is important for the state to explore ways it can generate revenue and save money. But she cautioned members of the House to analyze the impact such a move would have, not only on state government but also on the state as a whole.

"There is no question that we are driven in a knowledge-driven economy. We all know that access to information is so critical. Broadband is changing the way you live, it’s changing the way you learn, and it’s changing the way you communicate. It’s also preparing our children for the future," Kelley said. "Selling the ICN would take away our opportunity to take a leadership role by making broadband as universal as telephone service is today, and bringing its benefits to all Iowans as soon as possible. To get rid of an infrastructure that is so critical to economic growth in our state really puts us at a disadvantage.”

The amendment to sell or lease the ICN failed on a 55-43 vote.