Free Our Data: the blog

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


Free Data: the idea rises above the government horizon; government quizzed on OFT report

In this week’s Guardian Technology, Mike Cross notes that the Office of Fair Trading report (which we’ve referred to before) has some interesting analysis of other countries’ models for public data charging. In Commercial case for free data rises overseas, he examines its coverage of the models used in the US, Sweden and Australia.

In Sweden, public agencies can compete with private organisations, and use their own “raw” data to generate “refined” data without transparency in their accounts.

In Australia and the US, by contrast, the study finds that governments prevent public agencies from competing directly with the private sector. There has not been a single complaint from a private operator in either country for the past five years.

There is a price to pay, the international study suggests. In the US, it finds that, while the supply of free data from the US Geological Survey has stimulated private investment, the private sector has now overtaken the government agency, whose maps are now used only as a last resort. Part of the problem may be that an agency forced to provide data for free has no incentive to make its data relevant to the market. The study suggests that, in a free-data environment, regular surveys of users may be necessary to ensure that an agency’s products are still needed.

And just as an added extra, the UK government is now being asked by the opposition what it will do about Ordnance Survey following the OFT’s determination:

James Arbuthnot, for the Conservatives, asked the DCLG what’s going to be done.

Unfortunately the answer is completely unhelpful, apart from saying that “Ordnance Survey officials will be working with officials in my department and in other Departments and organisations mentioned in the report to assist the Department of Trade and Industry in its coordination of the official Government response to the report.”

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