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Weather Data Wants to Be Free

Rick Santorum (R-PA) is floating a bill that would force the National Weather Service to hold back any of its data if it competed with a private sector company that also provides similar information. The essence of this bill is that the NWS will only be allowed to provide “severe weather forecasts and warnings designed for the protection of life and property of the general public.”

Of course, this bill is a sweetheart deal for PA based AccuWeather. Rick Santorum’s just pandering to his corporate constituents. I had to drop a note to my Senators on this one. You can read it after the jump.

Dear Senator,

I am writing to encourage you to vote against S. 786, “National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005”. This bill, put forward by Pennsylvania Senator Santorum, is so obviously a sweetheart bill for Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather that it should be denied passage for that reason alone.

However, the daily weather forecasts and historical data generated by the National Weather Service are vital to the well being of the people of America. This information is paid for with tax dollars and must not be summarily handed over to for-profit corporations whom provide very little added value, but then want to charge the public for access to this government generated information. As a tax paying citizen of this country, I should not be forced to either pay for or endure advertisements to view data that is gathered with my tax dollars.

The NWS has, in the last year or two, started to provide XML (machine readable) feeds of weather data available for public consumption over the internet. It is this action that AccuWeather sees as a threat to its business model. End users and weather hobbyists have developed tools and websites that allow people to retrieve their local weather in a format that is convenient to them.

Compare the data provided by the NWS[1] and AccuWeather[2] for the same location (Providence) and note the lack of any added value provided by AccuWeather. If AccuWeather cannot provide any added value over the publicly available data, then market economics states that they should not continue to exist. They do not need legislation limiting publicly available data generated with tax dollars, they need to innovate and prove that they provide significant added value to command a premium price.

Again, I encourage you to vote against this bill. Weather data collected and forecasts created with tax dollars should be freely available to all Americans.

Respectfully,

John Duksta

[1] http://www.erh.noaa.gov/ifps/MapClick.php?CityName=Providence&state=RI&site=BOX

[2] http://wwwa.accuweather.com/index-forecast.asp?partner=accuweather&myadc=0&zipcode=02908&u=1