Branstad axes bill; Internet still free

Tracy Deutmeyer

Off-campus students and faculty at the three regents’ universities breathed a sigh of relief Thursday afternoon.

At about 4 p.m. Thursday, Gov. Branstad vetoed the so-called “Internet Bill,” which would have denied remote dial-up access to the Internet through the Iowa Communications Network.

Branstad vetoed the bill primarily “to maintain educational value of the Iowa Communications Network,” said Eric Woolson, spokesman for the governor.

“The state universities have had dial-up access for 10 years now. The governor believes it’s a valuable service and the state universities should continue to have that service,” Woolson said.

In his letter to the president of the Senate, Mary Kramer, Branstad said, “Senate File 519 would require our higher education institutions to dramatically change the educational services offered to the students or face significant financial burdens.”

If Branstad had signed the bill, off-campus students and faculty wouldn’t have been able to gain free access to the Internet. Iowa State officials say that would have created “two classes” of students.

On-campus students would still have been able to gain free Internet access.

State Rep. Bill Bernau, D-Ames, said he is pleased the governor vetoed the bill. He said the bill is near death, at least for this legislative season.

“There’s about three days left in the session, and some issues could come up. It’s not dead until the legislature adjourns,” Bernau said.

Bernau said the bill was an “extreme” piece of legislation because if signed by the governor, it would have taken away something people already have.

“It’s one thing to go against an expansion. It’s another to take it away from people,” Bernau said.

State Sen. John Jensen, R-Plainfield, is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce that wrote the bill.

“I think the governor mistakenly vetoed the bill. It wasn’t as damaging as he made it out to be,” Jensen said.

Jensen said free Internet access is unfair to the general public. “There’s nothing sacred about educators,” he said. He said Internet access is not that expensive for people who “really want it — although I know every little dollar makes a difference.”

Jensen said the state unfairly competes with private Internet providers with the free dial-up service.

He said the cost of Internet access might actually go down if competition in the private sector increases as a result of the bill.

“Nothing’s free. We or you the taxpayers have to pay for it,” he said.

Carol Bradley, ISU’s director of governmental relations, said the university and the regents “very much appreciate the governor’s veto.”

Rob Sanders, a senior in psychology who lives off-campus, hooks up to the Internet through the ICN daily.

“Students don’t have a lot of money anyway — not necessarily all of them, but some of them,” Sanders said. He said it would be hard for some students if they had to pay for their tuition as well as Internet access.