Free Internet access for Iowa's public universities was salvaged today by the state governor, Terry Branstad, when he vetoed a bill that would have made students pay to surf.
The Iowa State House passed a bill April 10, which called on students at the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, and Iowa State University to pay for Internet access through private companies rather than receiving free dial-up accounts through the state-subsidized Iowa Communications Network (ICN).
Without the service, the only way that students living off campus would be able to surf the Net for free is by using computers at on-campus computer labs. However, students could still dial in to check their email, according to Republican Rep. Bob Brunkhorst who supported the bill.
As products of the Information Age, many college students have come to think of access to campus computers and the Internet as a natural part of their education. But universities--and now legislators--face a climate of budget-cutting and external pressures from private enterprises that want students' business.
Rep. Brunkhorst said that the time had come for the state to stop subsidizing access to the Web. He was disappointed by the governor's action today. "I'm depressed," he said right after the bill was vetoed.
"We had a handshake with a company that was going to give service by this year to the ten percent of Iowa that doesn't have Net access. Those rural areas would have been a local phone call away from Net access, but the governor took that away."
Brunkhorst thinks that the state should spend the funds to provide content--to help universities mount virtual MBA programs, work with the government to offer job resources and tax information, and assist schools in posting lecture notes and video clips of classes. "The state should be a gateway to the Internet, not a service provider," he added.
But Republican Rep. Rosemary Thomson said before today's veto that legislators were under pressure from local Internet service providers and phone companies that felt that the free network access was taking away business.
"The problem is striking a balance between educational and private business interests," she said. "Local carriers can't compete with free [ones]."
Thomson said that in 1989, when the ICN bill was passed, it was intended to support distance learning and telemedicine. "The Internet was out there, but it was not even part of the discussion. [ICN] was not designed to compete with the private sector Internet access companies."