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Leading UK GIS companies concerned over OS consultation

UK: Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on November 17th 2009 which set out his vision for making public data public, a consultation has been taking place on three options for making certain Ordnance Survey (OS) datasets available for free with no restrictions on re-use.

Four UK GIS companies, ESRI (UK), Intergraph (UK), 1Spatial Group and Cadcorp, have written an open letter to the government to express their serious concerns about both the manner in which this consultation is being undertaken and the potential negative impacts that could result, not for their companies, but for the Ordnance Survey and for the UK economy.

The letter informs that these companies represent over 50% of this market and as such are effectively competitors. The Government press release entitled “Re-mapping the future for Ordnance Survey – making public data public” stated that “Any change would be implemented from April 2010.” But these companies insist that following the close of the consultation on March 17, adequate time be allowed for a full analysis of the submissions, prior to any decision being taken. They are very concerned that the decision to release a selection of mid- and small- scale products for free appears to have already been made by the Prime Minister’s office.

The consultation document states that were this decision to be taken, it would drive improved transparency and accountability of government and, by facilitating greater innovation, create new economic and social value. Whilst this may drive transparency and create social value, GIS companies do not consider that any significant economic value would result.

The consultation document says very little about the revenue impact on the OS of releasing datasets for free. OS is a trading fund which is completely self-funded from the revenues it receives from licensing its datasets. If any of these datasets were to be made freely available, this lost revenue would need to be replaced. Hence, GIS companies would be extremely concerned if this were achieved by increasing the charges for large scale datasets to either the public or private sector or both.

These companies do not see necessary changes in place to compensate the OS for this lost revenue before releasing datasets for free. Furthermore it is already evident that as a result of this proposed change, OS is feeling considerable pressure to generate additional revenue streams, through the rapid introduction of additional innovative and/or automated product lines. These pressures may encourage OS to risk its long term strategies of high quality geospatical data production for the sake of short term revenue gains.

The companies have opined that if the government is serious about making government geospatial data more readily available, it also needs to look beyond the OS. Current restrictions on the availability of postal address file data from The Royal Mail and Communities and Local Government identifiers for properties and streets need to be removed. Making all such data more readily available would lead to greater innovation and play an important role in placing the UK at the forefront of the knowledge economy in the twenty-first century.

They have also raised concern over the decision to release a selection of mid- and small- scale Ordnance Survey products for free does not give due regard to the future funding of the Ordnance Survey or whether this will drive real economic growth for the UK.

Source: ESRI UK