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UK government considers open source Ordnance Survey data

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The government has released a 91-page consultation paper on how UK citizens could get more access to Ordnance Survey mapping data from next year.

"We are now consulting on proposals to make certain products from Ordnance Survey freely available so it can be used for digital innovation and to support democratic accountability," said Communities Minister Ian Austin.

As we reported last month, UK.gov announced proposals to get the Ordnance Survey to open up some postcode data from April next year. However, the plans appeared to fall short of getting the Royal Mail to allow its contentious Postcode Address File (PAF) database opened up for free access on the internet.

In November, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the government would grant the British public more access to some OS data from 2010.

At the time, it was unclear if such a move would lead free and open access to the Royal Mail’s PAF database, which in 2007 pulled in £1.6m in licensing fees for the state-owned company.

The Royal Mail was resolute about its data and who owns it in a statement to The Register last month.

"Royal Mail invests significantly in collating and maintaining the Postcode Address File (PAF) and this cost is recovered in an independently regulated licensing [system]," it said.

According to the consultation papers on the OS, the government is mulling three options regarding the data.

Option 1: Maintain current business strategy - continued delivery of the strategy outlined in April 2009, plus consideration of release of OS Free.

Option 2: Release of licensing constraints on large-scale data and release of Ordnance Survey Free.

Option 3: Staged transition from the current strategy - to a model based on more open geographic information, including release of Ordnance Survey Free.

UK.gov currently favours the third option, and said that convincing the likes of the Royal Mail to get on board with its free data proposals was proving to be a challenge, especially as the PAF remains a source of cash for the postal service.

"Several barriers exist to movement from the status quo. First, there is no clear sponsor in government for a solution to this problem. Secondly, the parties involved have been concerned to maintain independent revenue streams," noted the consultation paper.

Anyone interested in wading into the debate about what OS data should be set free, has until 17 March 2010 to do so.

The consultation paper can be viewed here. ®

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