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UK government rebuffs cries for free postcode database

PAF remains fee-based, despite non-profit grumbles

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Number 10 has responded negatively to a petition signed by over 2,000 people that asked the government to convince the Royal Mail to offer a free postcode database to non-profit and community websites.

Sadly, a day is a long time on the internet, and following yesterday's data.gov.uk love-in, Prime Minister Gordon Brown today returned to appeasing commercial interests.

In a long statement on its petition website, Number 10 reiterated its "arm's length relationship" with the state-owned Royal Mail.

"The Postcode Address File (PAF) dataset was designed and engineered by Royal Mail and is owned and managed by the company as a commercial asset of the business (containing around 29 million addresses in the UK)," it said.

"Royal Mail developed the PAF with the primary purpose to aid the efficient delivery of mail, though over the years the PAF has come to be used for a number of purposes other than the postal purpose for which it is designed and was established."

UK.gov pointed out that the PAF was used by organisations and businesses large and small across Blighty, at some expense to the country's largest postal service.

"Royal Mail invests significantly in collating and maintaining the Postcode Address File (PAF) and this cost is recovered through an independently regulated licensing arrangement," it said, echoing a statement the Royal Mail gave to The Register in December.

The government then goes on to explain that replicating the database would be "time-consuming and costly". However, the Royal Mail's PAF data fee-based licences, that are issued by postal watchdog Postcomm, allow others to use it.

"Under Section 116 of the Postal Services Act 2000, Royal Mail must maintain the PAF and make it available to any person who wishes to use it on 'such terms as are reasonable'," it said.

Number 10 added that the Royal Mail had every right to charge for supplying the PAF to businesses and individuals, in part to help "safeguard" its intellectual property rights.

"Royal Mail’s licence obliges the company to make access to the PAF available on reasonable terms. Postcomm allows the company to make a reasonable specified profit margin and monitors its accounts," it said.

Postcomm undertook public consultation reviewing how the PAF was managed in 2006, and concluded its findings in 2007, said the government.

However, UK.gov made no mention of current public consultation taking place about the the PM's desire to open some parts of the Ordnance Survey data to British citizens.

A decision about that data is expected to be announced in April this year. ®

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