Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


Should Ordnance Survey be split into two?

Following our earlier post about the Ordnance Survey losing the NIMSA contract, this week’s Guardian Technology investigates: Survey subsidy wiped off the map – and talks about the death of NIMSA to a number of people. Robert Barr of the University of Manchester mentions some possibilities:

Ending subsidies to Ordnance Survey raises another possibility: that a future government might consider outright privatisation – an option considered and rejected in the 1990s. This would be a disaster for free data. Barr suggests an alternative approach: splitting the organisation into two. One division would operate a national geospatial database, funded by the taxpayer and made available to all, while the other would compete freely in the marketplace for maps and other “value added” products.

Another model could be Canada’s Geobase project, where since 2001, mapping agencies at different levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal – have agreed to share and make available geospatial data under so-called “copyleft” royalty-free licences. The database, available at the Geobase portal, includes administrative boundaries and height data, which have both been subjects of anguished controversy in Britain.

We repeat: we don’t think it would be at all good for Ordnance Survey to be privatised. For the free data model to work, you need a publicly-funded government agency.

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