The House and Senate have agreed to require the state to take bids on the potential sale or lease of the state-owned fiber optic system known as the Iowa Communications Network (ICN). The requirement is part of a budget bill that will soon go to the governor.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, says the requirement doesn’t mean the ICN will be sold. He says it doesn’t require the state to sell the network, but it does require the state to see what the “fair market value” of the network is.

The network has linked schools and libraries statewide with two-way audio-visual communication for more than two decades. Paulsen says private industry provides a similar service. Paulsen says the private sector may be a better way to deliver the service, so they will take a look at it and see if they can serve Iowans better by getting out of the business and not pumping money into it every year.

Critics have long argued that the state should not be competing with private industry for telecommunications services. But Senate Democrat leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, says the Republican bill could result in a fire sale of the network.

Two Democrats ,including Swati Dandikar of Marion, broke with the Democratic party to get the measure through the Senate. Dandikar says the state should find out how much the network is worth before investing any more state dollars in its upkeep.