Apr 24

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Federal Weather Info Could Go Dark

The Palm Beach Post reports that Senator Rick Santorum, R-PA, has entered a bill to prohibit the National Weather Service from "competing" with commercial services such as Accuweather (which resell its data) by providing its information free on the web. The fact that Accuweather and its ilk are offering that same data doesn't mean that it's their original work with any claim on protection! As Dave Farber said when posting a report on this piece on his IP mailing list: "We paid for it!!!!!!!!!"

In a followup posting, Lauren Weinstein wrote:

"You're damn right we have. And as a big fan of the National Weather Service Internet and now cellphone data and other offerings, I can't emphasize enough that the NWS services make most of the commercial services pale in comparison. Even getting detailed information from the commercial sites, bloated with cutesy graphics and ads, is often impossible. At the NWS sites, you can get the technical "forecast discussion" reports -- they tell you what's really going on and are the underlying detailed source for much of the sanitized and summarized data that mainstream media outlets report.

"And something else -- the NWS actually responds to queries. They really do care about what people think regarding their services. Recently when I noticed a problem with their cellphone reports locally, I sent an e-mail off to the designated contact reporting the problem and also making a couple of format suggestions. Within hours I had a personal reply and thank-you note, indicating my message had already circulated to the appropriate technical folks and that the data had been fixed -- and within a day or so my format suggestions were also adopted.

"The publicly available NWS weather products and services are a shining example of how government *should* be serving the people. To allow greedy and well-heeled commercial interests to shutter any of NWS' public operations would be nothing short of criminal."

In another followup posting, Donna Wentworth remarks:

James Boyle has written an excellent Financial Times column exploring why this kind of thing happens: Deconstructing Stupidity.

The stupidity in question is the way that governments typically make intellectual property law and policy -- that is, without evidence that it will produce the desired social or economic benefit. According to Boyle, it's not only "corporate capture" that makes governments stupid about copyright. They also suffer from any number of delusions, making them susceptible to anecdote and scaremongering.

In a previous article, Boyle pointed out that in the US, we make weather data available at cost -- yet we have a thriving private weather industry. Now Senator Santorum wants to prevent the National Weather Service from giving away weather information because it competes with the Weather Channel.
Further on in the thread on IP, someone offers Senator Santorum's phone number (202-224-6324), and then someone else reports that his voice mailbox is full. If you care about free access to government data, which we have indeed already paid for, call or write your own Senator and suggest strongly that they vote down Santorum's bill.

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  col [04.25.05 01:41 PM]

Hey isn't that the same guy that Dan Savage piled on for his (Santorum's) views that people do not have a right to privacy with regard to their sex life.

Some senator.

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