[geo-discuss] quasi-public goods

Roger Longhorn ral at alum.mit.edu
Mon Jul 25 12:29:07 UTC 2005


At 07:10 24/07/2005 -0700, you wrote:
>I dug out the 1999 paper which the OS website quotes everywhere on the
>subject of how OS data 'underpins 100 billion worth of business' (for
>which read, OS sell some data to companies which have throughput of
>75-125 billion between them)

I have yet to find any government official in the UK or elsewhere who is 
impressed with this figure (when you talk to them privately, that is!). 
Especially among the departments or ministries who must provide funding for 
geospatial data collection at national or even local level. Sure, OS data 
*may* 'underpin' vast sums of 'business' - but then, so does the transport 
network, financial infrastructure, legal infrastructure, etc. One might as 
well say that the educational infrastructure underpins the same amount - or 
even more. A very impressive figure that doesn't mean much, in practice.

>i was fascinated to see the Jamie Love connection in the citing of
>government-collected spatial information as a "quasi-public good",
>which appears in other papers that reference this one, e.g.
>- the ideas of non-excludability on which the definition of public
>   good is built don't seem to apply to digital goods. All digital
>   goods tend towards being quasi-private in the current IP climate
>- if NIMSA funded data collection is clearly separable from other geodata
>   collection, and *is* classified as a public good, then surely public
>   access to that information should also be considered a public good?

Unfortunately, I don't believe that the NIMSA funded data is or can be 
separated out, specifically, from all the data collected by OS GB. (But I 
could be wrong on that, since one use for NIMSA funding is supposed to be 
to pay for data collection in those geographic areas where there *is* no 
commercial market (hence precluding cost recovery), which implies very low 
demand from either government (including local) or business users (i.e. no 
sales value). Whether or not that would apply to 'citizens', I've never 
seen discussed elsewhere. NIMSA is also used for things that are supposed 
to help on a wider scale, e.g. the whole GIgateway, UK national portal for 
GI metadata, is funded from the NIMSA budget line.

>i am not an economist, and the lingo is intermittently penetrable.
>i thought the papers might catch someone's interest though.

So many different meanings are often attached to "open data", "open 
source", "free software", "public good", "public domain" (which is actually 
a legal definition that is often misused) - that when we get into the realm 
of "quasi-public good" etc. - I give up! ;>)


ral at alum.mit.edu
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