Recently approved legislation calls for appraisal of the Iowa Communications Network. Lawmakers want to know what the ICN is worth if it were put up for sale. Few Iowans know much about the 20-year old network which serves all 99 counties. The 1989 state legislature authorized burying 9,000 miles of fiber-optic cable along Iowa roads, enabling people in schools, libraries, hospitals and armories to see and talk with each other across the state.
ICN Executive Director Dave Lingren says the network is a partnership between the state-owned fiber-optic “backbone,” located at colleges and universities, and lines owned by private telephone companies. “So, from that community college or (Area Education Agency) it then goes to a K-12 school, for example. The telephone company maintains and owns that fiber between that AEA and the school,” Lingren said. “They lease that fiber to us and we pay them a monthly fee.”
One of the ICN’s primary purposes was education – linking rural school classrooms with teachers in larger school districts. But, evolving technology has idled use of the ICN by many schools. Jeff Schweibert is the superintendent of North Scott Community Schools. He says schools are now using cheaper, interactive connections such as Skype or GoToMeeting. The ICN’s Lingren admits the school-owned equipment is outdated. He says that’s why the ICN is developing Internet-based fiber-optic links.
The ICN still fits the needs of the Iowa National Guard. Colonel Kelly Scott calls the network, which links statewide armories, a money saver. “Rather than driving three hours for a meeting, we can easily jump on the ICN and in an hour’s time, doing a lot of coordination. It’s almost as good as face to face,” Colonel Scott said. The ICN also provides telephone service to some 16,000 terminals in state government offices in Des Moines.
Dave Lingren, the ICN Executive Director, says the agency generates its own operating revenue. It receives about $2 million a year from the state for upgrading the telephone system over an eight year period and for ICN maintenance.
Lingren says the state is getting a good deal and the ICN shouldn’t be sold. “The total investment for the ICN, with all the different parts, is just under $250 million,” Lingren said. “If it was sold or leased, you’re not going to receive anywhere near that amount back. So, somebody’s going to be able to own a $250 million asset for probably 10-cents to the dollar.” Lingren envisions greater ICN partnering with private companies. He says selling the ICN would be using a taxpayer asset for providing an unfair competitive advantage to a private company.