DES MOINES — After years of discussion, a request for proposals to buy or lease the state’s 25-year-old Iowa Communications Network will be released Wednesday.

Bidders will have at least 60 days to submit proposals to buy or lease all or parts of the ICN backbone system and its 8,661 miles of fiber cable, David Lingren, executive director with the state’s Telecommunications & Technology Commission, told the Senate State Government Committee on Monday.

If Lingren and an implementation authorized by Gov. Terry Branstad and the Iowa Legislature recommend the sale or lease of the system, lawmakers will have to vote to approve it. Given that the go-ahead for requesting proposals passed the Senate by one vote as an amendment on another bill, State Government Committee Chairman Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said approval is not a sure thing.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, grilled Lingren on the RFP process, specifically the $850,000 spent to have a consultant help write it.

McCoy said it’s been estimated the state has spent as much as $600 million on the fiber optic system.

Lingren told the legislature two years ago that construction costs for three main parts of the ICN topped $245 million, although the state only owns parts I and II of the backbone network. Overall ICN investments are approaching $320 million, and the state spends about $50 million annually for telecommunications and distance-learning services that would be incurred regardless whether they were delivered via the ICN, according to a report on ICN-related state appropriations and allocations

Regardless of the price tag, Lingren said the network “has a very limited market value … a greater value to the users than the market value.”

In addition to its age — the ICN was built in the 1990s with federal money using public transportation right of way and is based in the Iowa National Guard’s command center — whoever buys or leases the system will have to continue to provide service to its authorized users. That includes K-12 schools, community colleges and health-care facilities around the state.

That, too, limits the market value of the system, Lingren said.

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