Buoyed by the success last week of the state's first electronic town meeting, state officials are gearing up to complete construction of Iowa's controversial fiber optics telecommunications networks.

Ted Chapler, chief executive officer of the 2,600-mile network, said that the state expect to evaluate by January proposals from telephone and cable firms interested in completing the third and final phase of the voice, data and video communications network. The final phase will link libraries and other users to the network.

The price tag on the final phase is dependent on the proposal submitted by telephone and cable firms. Chapler said. The state would like to lease, rather than own, the final phase, he said.

Under state law, 80% of the financing for the third phase must be provided by the state and 20% by school districts that use the system. Chapler said it would be up to the legislature to decide how the state pays for its share of the final phase.

The first two phase of the network were financed by proceeds from a controversial $96 million certificate of participation issue that was sold last year after heated legislative debate. Even after those COPs were issued, some state lawmakers continued to challenge the state's role in the project.

In July, the state issued $18.5 million of additional COPs to pay for added equipment for the network.

In the first phase of the network, a control center was installed that linked universities, community colleges, Iowa Public Television, and the state Capitol complex. In the second phase, community colleges were linked with high schools and other college sites.

Last week's electronic town meeting over the network was held with school officials in six counties, Chapler said. In addition, 59 community college courses are being taught on the network, he said.

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