A key legislator says it’s time to sell the state-owned fiber optic network. House Speaker Christopher Rants, a republican from Sioux City, says the state should no longer run its own telecommunications network.Rants says lawmakers have been talking for years about either selling the Iowa Communications Network or upgrading the system and starting to operate at a profit. Rants says now’s the “critical juncture” to make that decision.Rants says it should be sold, with a couple of caveats. First, he wants the I-C-N sale to be fashioned in a way that schools, community colleges and state universities would still get connected and second, he wants the fiber optic connections to the state’s National Guard facilities maintained under state ownership. Rants says if it’s not sold, the state will continue to operate the network at a loss — a drain on taxpayers. Rants says the state doesn’t do a good job “operating a telephone company” and the network should be turned over to the private sector. But the sale has opponents. Senator Mary Lundby, a republican from Marion, is co-chair of the Government Oversight Committee which has examined the idea of selling the network. Lundby says “It doesn’t make very good financial sense” for the state to sell off a network that was built at “the absolute peak” of the telecommunications revolution when that industry’s now in the doldrums. Lundby says she looked at the list of groups lined up against the sale, and “it includes a lot of areas that Senators represent.” Lundby says small-town phone companies, Iowa Telecom and Iowa Network Services are against the sale and she says “that’s almost all of rural Iowa.” Lundby says those companies fear a large competitor will swoop in and buy the fiber that runs throughout the state and drive them out of business. Lundby says those businesses are concerned about getting “a lot of financial grief” from a competitor who’d buy the network and undercut prices to lure customers away. The state’s spent millions extending high-speed fiber optic cable throughout the state, connecting schools and government agencies to the Iowa Communications Network which transmits both audio and video. The network’s been controversial since its beginnings in the late 1980s, as it was included in a budget bill that cleared the Iowa House and Senate in the waning hours of a legislative session, and most lawmakers had no idea the deal was included in the bill.
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