fact that all the meteorological information, current and historic, gathered and generated by the U.S. government is openly and unrestrictedly available to the financial community to provide these specialized services.
In the United States we hold as self-evident the truth that taxpayer-funded information belongs to the taxpayers. However, that truth is not broadly accepted worldwide. Indeed, the United States stands close to alone in following and advocating an open and unrestricted data policy. Some notable exceptions are Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. Rather, much of the world, for example Great Britain, France, and Germany, treats its government information not as a public good, but rather as a private revenue-generating mechanism to supplement or offset agency appropriations.
It has only been in the past few years that researchers and economists have been starting to think about the economic effects of open-access policies. One seminal study was funded by the European Commission. 2 For the purposes of this discussion, remember that the European Union economy and the American economy are about the same size. The European Commission study found that the United States spends twice as much money in creating public-sector information than the Europeans do in total, but the economic value to society in terms of job creation, wealth creation, and taxes is a factor of five larger in the United States than it is in Europe.
The United States follows a policy that encourages, even sometimes forces, federal agencies actively to disseminate that information to all comers, so that we can have, for example, database industries, more robust publishing industries, commercial meteorology firms like the Weather Channel, or weather risk management firms that are selling new forms of insurance. European government restrictions on dissemination and use of publicsector information are thwarting the kind of economic development in these sectors that we have already seen in the United States.
For example, in the United States the commercial meteorology sector totals approximately half a billion dollars annually. It includes about 400 companies employing about 4,000 people. In Europe, the commercial meteorology sector is a factor of ten smaller. Again, the European economy and the American economy are of approximately equal size.
Why does this phenomenon exist? I claim it exists because European government agencies often restrict taxpayer-funded information for shortsighted reasons. An even more telling economic statistic illustrates this issue. The value of contracts issued by the weather risk management industry over the four years ending in 2001 was over $7 billion; it is now nearly $12 billion, adding nearly $5 billion in notional value in one year alone. By contrast, according to research done by the Weather Risk Management Association and PriceWaterhouse Cooper, the European weather risk management market is $720 million over the same five-year period. 3 Again, the reason for this is the difference in the public information policies of the United States versus those of Europe. European government agencies often assert copyright as well as the sui generis database protection right on taxpayer-funded information. In the United States, they do neither.
A specific example is illustrative of this phenomenon. A particular firm requested the entire historic record of meteorological observations in the United States, from 1948 on, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climate Data Center (NCDC). Following the policies of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-130, NCDC burned a stack of CDs for them, 15 gigabytes of data, and charged a little over $4,000, which covered dissemination costs, including time, effort, labor, burning the CDs, postage, etc. This same research firm requested analogous data from the German government, their entire postwar meteorological record. The German government quoted $1.5 million. The volume of the data is significantly smaller, because it is one country in Europe versus the entire United States. They also quoted 4,000 German marks, which now would be $2,500, for the historical record of only one observing station in Germany. The United States has well over a thousand, the German government fewer than 200. The interesting thing about this example is that, because this firm could not afford the German data, it did
2PIRA International. 2000. Commercial Exploitation of Europe's Public Sector Information. Final Report for the European Commission, Directorate General for the Information Society, PIRA International, LTD, University of East Anglia and KnowledgeView, Ltd.
3See also Mr. Weiss' powerpoint presentation from the symposium at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/biso/STIsymposium_Weiss.ppt.