Governor Branstad is rejecting bids to buy the state-owned communications network. 

Branstad helped launch the Iowa Communications Network more than 24 years ago, touting it as a way to provide two-way audio/video connections for “distance learning” in Iowa schools.

Over the past two decades several Republican lawmakers have tried to sell the system, saying it’s unfair state government competition with the private sector and a waste of taxpayer resources. The legislature recently voted to set up a process to consider selling the fiber optic lines that make up the network, but Branstad is rejecting the two bids that have been submitted.

In a written statement released this morning, Branstad said the ICN is worth more to the State of Iowa than what the bidder was willing to pay — and “it would be a disservice to the taxpayers of the State of Iowa to sell this important asset for pennies on the dollar.”

To date, more than $280 million in state and federal money has been spent on the system. The two bids submitted to buy or lease the ICN came from West Des Moines-based Iowa Network Services. One bid was for nearly $16 million in cash. The other was $12.7 million. Both bids offered to have the company assume million of dollars in operating expenses in addition to the cash offer.

The creation of the Iowa Communications Network was shrouded in secrecy. Backers inserted language into a massive bill in the closing hours of the 1989 legislative session to create the ICN and few legislators knew they were voting to launch the project. By law, the system cannot be sold without the approval of legislators and the governor.