Should government "services" be *free*?

S. A. Modena samodena at csemail.cropsci.ncsu.edu
Tue Feb 9 23:39:54 EST 1993


>From rgetz at awis.auburn.edu  Tue Feb  9 19:03:53 1993
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 93 17:23:12 CST
>From: Rodger R. Getz <rgetz at awis.auburn.edu>
Message-Id: <9302092323.AA00676 at awis.auburn.edu>
To: extech-mg at oes.orst.edu
Subject: Re: Weather Systems Report

I'm relaying the follow partial post, because it touches on the question of
what should be "free" and what is sacrosanct.

There has been some objection--or distress--that cost recovery or
entrepenurism _might_ be "invading" the knowledge-for-free realm of
government-paid (biological) research---or even the public universities
(like NCSU).

Another angle has been the debate on whether "DNA" sequences should be
patented.

Some have raised the question: can software be patented (of course it can)
or are mathematical algorithms universal truths and therefore not
patentable?  Certainly Intel has learned that 'Pentium' is a copyrightable
trademark, but '486' (a number) is not.

So what could be more universal than the weather....farmers need it, some
biological experimenters need it for various reasons...no one owns the
weather...yet weather information, especially timely weather information is
not immediately in the zone of free public access (see below).  Is this
"fair" or is this "just?"

Now for the latest report on the weather.....
  ----------Cut Here--------------

Tony Wright's summary of responses contained a misconception that I
must clear up. Several people indicated that the National Weather
Service (NWS) provides telnet access via downwind.sprl.umich.edu. This
is incorrect! The NWS does not provide ANY public internet access to
any of its systems. There is internet connectivity to the main
computers in DC, but these are VERY SECURE Federal systems that limit
access only to certain ip addresses. Those of us that have been granted
access are done so only to obtain certain experimental forecast
datasets and other limited data files.

The issue with public access to NWS feeds is clouded by requirements
for the agency to recover costs and encourage private sector
development of information develivery services. In fact, the
downwind.sprl.umich.edu system actually gets its information through a
commercial service via a satellite downlink. Our contracts with the
commerical downlink service specifically prohibits the free
distribution of the information unless there is some value added. Since
the University of Michigan makes the Weather Underground available via
a menu, this makes it a value added service. This whole thing has been
widely debated.  ..............

Rodger R. Getz			Internet: rgetz at awis.auburn.edu

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Steve
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