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Royal Mail promises 2nd class service on postcode data

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The Royal Mail looks set to disappoint members of the public hoping to see the contentious Postcode Address File database opened up for free access on the internet.

On Monday the UK government reiterated plans to get the Ordnance Survey to open up some postcode data from April 2010.

In November, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the government would grant British citizens more access to some OS data from next year.

Earlier this week the PM added a little more detail about what data would be made available to the public.

“From April next year Ordnance Survey will open up information about administrative boundaries, postcode areas and mid-scale mapping,” he said.

“All of this will be available for free commercial re-use, enabling people for the first time to take the material and easily turn it into applications, like fix my street or the postcode paper,” said Brown on Monday in a speech dubbed ‘Smarter Government'. It came ahead of Wednesday’s pre-budget speech, which alluded to £5bn cuts from technology projects.

However, it’s less clear if such a move would lead to the Royal Mail’s PAF database, which in 2007 pulled in £1.6m in licensing fees for the state-owned company, being opened up.

We asked the Royal Mail what the prime minister's announcement on postcode data meant for the PAF database. And for now it's remaining resolute about its data and who owns it.

"Royal Mail invests significantly in collating and maintaining the Postcode Address File (PAF) and this cost is recovered in an independently regulated licensing," it told The Register.

All of which seems to suggest that the government's postcode proposals fall short of opening up the PAF database to all comers.

In recent months the Royal Mail has been bullish about keeping the PAF under wraps, despite attempts by some to free up the database.

As we reported in September, an alleged copy of the UK postcode list - though not the entire PAF database - tipped up on whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Shortly afterward the Royal Mail's lawyers served legal papers against a number of sites, including El Reg, in an effort to have links to the data removed.

Come October, a UK postcode lookup service (North London-based Ernest Marples Postcodes Ltd) was slapped with a cease and desist letter from the Royal Mail, forcing it to close down its website. It had been providing web outfits with an API to power their sites that helped people search for information specific to their area.

In not unrelated news, UK.gov opened up a further 146 datasets over the weekend, the details are here, however you will need to be a member of the UK government data developers group in order to gain access to it. ®

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