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The Future of Free Weather Data on the Internet 312

Posted by michael
from the looks-like-rain dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The National Weather Service wants to update a 1991 policy that limits what data it can put on the Internet. The proposed new policy makes putting free data on the Internet official. The Private Weather Sector wants NWS to provide its new digital forecasts only in specialized data formats and would like NWS to shut down new XML data feeds. Barry Myers (MS Word doc), president of Accuweather wants you to have pay before using Kweather and other similar tools. Myers is asking friends to comment against the new NWS policy by June 30. Should we have to pay twice to get weather forecasts?"
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The Future of Free Weather Data on the Internet

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  • It should be free (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bobhagopian (681765) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:10AM (#9541418)
    Nobody should ever have to pay for a service which provides the same information as a quick look out the window does. And if they do charge something for it, the vast majority of people *will not* pay.
  • Who pays for it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mazem (789015) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:10AM (#9541421)
    Who pays for the National Weather Service? If it is taxpayer money then setting up a pay-service on the internet seems counter-intuitive.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:11AM (#9541427)
    That way you're not forced to pay at all.

    You'll also open up new opportunities for private business, free or otherwise.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:11AM (#9541428)
    I thought that there was a considerable amount of cooperation between organisations across the world with regards to sharing data for weather forcasting ?

    Surely if people start putting price tags on things, all that happens is that the service starts to ramp up in price and people consequently loose access to quality forcasting.

    I know this sounds like an obvious 'Step 3 - Profit' plot, but weather forcasting is a literal matter of life and death, and shouldn't that take a priority over the more mundane fiscal aspects ?

    Afer all, this is the real world.
  • by TardisX (15222) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:14AM (#9541433)
    If this ever happens, I estimate it would take about 1 week for a group to appear, advocating 'open source' weather data collection, another week for some client/server software to be written, and about 3 months for effectively global weather data collection.
  • Should be free. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dj245 (732906) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:15AM (#9541437) Homepage
    We all pay taxes (OK maybe not all of us) that support things like weather sattelites, weather baloons, remote weather stations, etc. This is where the majority of the weather data comes from, and the funding comes from taxpayers ultimately. The NWS is a government agency. They compile the data from the balloons, stations, and sattelites, and make forecasts and charts and maps and graphs. Mariners, in particular, get a lot of data from the NWS directly and indirectly.

    On the other hand, Accuweather is a commercial venture designed to profit by delivering weather content to television studios and radio stations. They own no balloons nor weather stations nor sattelites. Why should we have to pay them anything? They only want to diversify their grip on the nutsack of private weather.

  • by Genda (560240) <mariet@nOSpAM.got.net> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:22AM (#9541456) Journal
    This is so simple... Either the weather information we pay for through our taxes is provoded to the public for free... or Accuweather can foot the entire bill for weather collection and charge whatever it see's as a fair market price for the service. I would just as happily see my tax dollars returned to me, and watch the weather on the evening news, or buy a small personal weather station.

    Genda
  • Bad idea. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Minstrel Boy (787690) <kevin_stevens@hotmail.com> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:22AM (#9541457)
    Here's what happens when you don't have good international cooperation for your weather service: http://www.1900storm.com/ KeS
  • by miyako (632510) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [okayim]> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:23AM (#9541458) Homepage Journal
    I think having free weather information is not only a good thing, it could save lives. I live in the midwest, where for a few months a year (tornado season), you can really be taking your ass in your hands if you don't keep up with the weather. I'm sure it's the same in other regions of the country with various other weather patterns (hurricanes in the south-east, snow storms in the north and north east).
    I don't own a TV to be able to watch the weather on the local news, (thought I do have a weather radio), and for people like me, it can really be a good thing to have forwarning.
    All that aside, this guy sounds like a real asshat because, while I could understand if the companies were doing any work, them wanting to make money, his complaint seems to be "Hey, don't just publish this information in a way anyone can get it for free, obfuscate it first so that we have a product to sell."
    Of course, if all else fails you can easily tell the weather with just a rock and a string. First tie the rock to the string then hang it outside from a tree branch. When you want to know what the weather is outside, just look at the rock. If the rock is wet it's raining, if the rock is white it's snowing, if the rock is easy to see it's sunny, if the rock is hard to see it's cloudy. If the string is not perpendicular to the tree branch, it's windy. And if the rock is missing, tornado.
  • Kinda obvious where he stands seeing it's an MS Word doc instead of an open format. :-P
  • Pointless (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Enlarge Your Penis (781779) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:33AM (#9541476)
    The government collects weather data anyway-it has to, for shipping, flights, disaster prediction, military uses etc. If the taxpayer's already paying for it, why shouldn't they get it for free on the internet?
  • Free? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:45AM (#9541500)
    Should be careful about calling it a "free service". As has already been said countless times in this discussion the NWS is paid for by the tax payers with the intent serving those people. If we simply use the phrase "pre-paid service" the discussion shouldn't have any merit.

    Then again comercial internet providers have claimed in court that municipal internet providers should banned because they make it harder to profiteer off those communities.
  • by klmth (451037) <mkoivi3@unix.saunalahti.fi> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:51AM (#9541512) Homepage Journal
    Look, this is not going to happen for a simple reason: the general public doesn't sit on a metric assload of various measurment instruments.
  • by hussar (87373) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:08AM (#9541537) Homepage
    Well, as a former pilot, I would be a bit concerned about the unreported, open source sonde collecting upper air data.

    As for the public not sitting on a metric buttload of weather measuring gear, they weren't sitting on a metric buttload of WiFi gear at first either. If local measurement ever went open source, I suspect you'd see a lot of measuring equipment show up on the market.
  • No thank you (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jesterzog (189797) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:16AM (#9541553) Homepage Journal

    So, write a Distributed Computing Client which downloads weather-satellite data from a handful of sat-dish-connected servers and predicts the weather.

    I don't think so. If it were that easy then you could guarantee that it'd be being done already. You could argue for a distributed client and in some way it might be useful. But more of a priority should be figuring out how to design a system that's actually intelligent enough both to make reliable predictions and trustworthy judgement calls about the weather in the first place.

    Maybe it's different where you are, but in my location (New Zealand, which is admittedly not the US at all), having weather data and being able to make useful forecasts from it are two very different things. (To be fair, it is quite turbulent and changeable weather over here for a variety of geographical reasons.)

    If your local environment means that 90% of days are identical to the day before, then simply having some data might be useful.... if for no other reason than to predict a possible change of some sort probably approching. But if that's your local situation, you probably don't really need satellite data in the first place --- you could use a telephone. The reason that we have meteorologists is because it does require some education and experience to look at the maps and understand properly what's actually happening, what's likely to happen, and (just as importantly) what we still don't know.

  • by OneDeeTenTee (780300) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:19AM (#9541556)
    Nobody would pay for that. They'd look out the window instead.

    The question is paying for quantified data from entire regions and predictions.

    Our tax money is used for the collection of much of this data and that (if nothing else) ought to be freely available.
  • by Chromal (56550) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:46AM (#9541605) Homepage
    Interestingly, we have Accu-Weather spearheading an attempt to make the data formats put out by NOAA less accessible to non-meteorologists. Much of this data is readily available in obscure meteorological data formats like the dense GRIB-format 5-dimensional GFS model output and the equally obscure METAR surface obs format (whose byzantine structure dates back to the 1940s when observations were distributed codified and via teletype).

    Make no mistake about it-- all of this data is publically available via FTP, or C-band satellite downlink (aka NOAAPORT). What the leader of the industry consortium (which does not represent all meteo firms by a long shot) is apparently protesting is NOAA putting out data in a modern format that ANYONE, not just meteorologists, may be expected to work with. He is, perhaps, upset with the notion that in this day and age of realtime data exchange on the Internet, it really doesn't take a BS in meterology and a publisher like a newspaper, TV station, or radio station to get the weather from the government to the people-- his business's model, acting as an interpreter that (for a fee) translates the data produced by the National Weather Service into something the public understands-- this model of business is becoming incresingly obsolete.

    Any protests about NOAA supporting new and more accessible formats is a cynical cry for business or industry protectionism, nothing more. Which is a shame-- there is plenty of room for innovation in the weather industry-- niche forecasts specialized for markets where small-scale accuracy matters (like the agricultural and power industries), or more advanced and interactive web-based tools (like The Weather Underground's NEXRAD interface) can innovate the way the public look at weather data.

    Support innovation, not protectionism!
  • by mumblestheclown (569987) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:11AM (#9541654)
    Bullshit.

    Mod parent down.

    I am a pilot who flies in the USA and in Europe. In the USA, weather information is free. In Europe, it is not. NO open source weather network has sprung up in europe. The TV news provides some information, but very very little of interest to pilots.

    The thing is, given all the airports already in place who could benefit from this (that is to say, a distributed set of reporting stations), you'd think that your sort of community network would just spring up. Well, it hasn't and won't. Why? Because the competitive market has turned out to be a pretty efficient mechanism for bringing weather data to those who need it.

  • by kalidasa (577403) * on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:14AM (#9541658) Journal

    What makes you think weather satellite transmissions would remain unencrypted if the weather industry lobbyists succeed in preventing the NWS from providing direct free weather information over the internet? These folks have built their industry out of packaging and distributing free government data, and now that new technologies have made distribution cheap enough for the government to provide the data directly to the taxpayer, they realize the free ride is over. So do they decide to offer new value-added services to maintain their audience? No, they want to surpress the competition.

    Always keep this in mind when you think about free markets: free markets are the result of an equilibrium of self-interest. No company in a market acts in the best interests of the market - their urge is always to attempt to limit the market to serve only their own interests. When each competitor's interests serve to cancel out the interests of other competitors, free markets are self-correcting and flourish. But when limiting the market is in the best interests of ALL existing competitors, those competitors will act in cooperation to suppress the free market. That's why free markets don't work in a true anarchy - because in an absolutely free market the common interest of all factors in an industry will lead to the development of a cartel, and competition will tend to be limited to a stable equilibrium (until one competitor gains an advantage that allows them to wipe out the rest of the cartel and establish a monopoly).

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:20AM (#9541668) Homepage
    Barry Myers (MS Word doc), president of Accuweather wants you to have pay before using Kweather and other similar tools.

    fine. then the US government needs to increase Commercial use of NOAA weather data fees by 100 fold. Little Barry, in his childish hissy fit, fails to realize that the NOAA weather data is the property of the United States Citizens and Government... So let's appease him. Anyone want to intorduce legislation that any commercial use of NOAA data has higher fees and 20% of all profit made from said data must be paid back to help fund NOAA and other government weather research.

    It's high time as americans we got off our lazy asses and start smacking around childish losers like Barry and other Company officials that while about people getting something that they pay for through taxes. do what you can to introduce new legislation to "bitch slap" these morons. if worded right it would go through in a heartbeat as it would be a new significan source of income and congresscritters can't turn their back on money.

    some of the mapping companies tried this about 5 years ago with the USGS release of their tigerline data maps. they were whining that it would undermine their business and other equally stupid erasons for keeping the data OUT of the public's hands. but they still wanted the free access for themselves.

  • by Gabrill (556503) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:22AM (#9541671)
    Does the weather information come under the freedom of information act? Can that act be used to thwart this scheme?
  • No! (was Re:Yes!) (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:22AM (#9541672)
    What is this, the Young republican Convention??

    >In Microsoft's defense, they at least created new products (Word, Excel, Access) that did not exist and add features and improvements.
    No they did not! Have you heard of Word Perfect? And before that, Wordstar? A brief search on Google shows you are not just wrong but utterly, totaly and completely wrong, misleading and attempting to rewrite history.

    Do you by any chance work for Microsoft?

  • by Alsee (515537) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:23AM (#9541675) Homepage
    Be sure to submit a comment through ths page. [noaa.gov]
    Here's the comment I submitted:

    As a government agency, the purpose of the NOAA is to serve the public. Data which has been generated or collected using tax dollars belongs to the public and should be freely available to the public.

    Information provides the greatest benefit when it is freely available and most widely utilized.

    Thus far the NOAA has had a "non-compete" policy. I have no doubt the NOAA is receiving pressure from special interests to maintain that policy and to withhold data from the public. Business is a good and valuable thing when it provides the public with needed services, however the government should NOT be protecting unneeded redundant services at the direct expense and detriment of the public. The government should not be creating an artificial scarcity of information. The public should not have to pay a second time for information it has already obtained through tax dollars.


    -
  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@n ... t ['etz' in gap]> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:31AM (#9541693) Homepage Journal
    Please don't do this. What is needed is for individuals to really study the issue, show that you have more than one or two brain cells, and intelligently explain why you may support/not support the new policy changes, and potentially suggest new directions to look at with this.

    There are many very intelligent individuals here on /. of a very diverse background. What is needed here is not raw activism of the typical D.C. type, but rather people from outside the "weather" industry that can thoughtfully explain how data should not be kept locked up by private companies but needs to be kept free.

    There seems to be a kneejerk reaction here with the /. crowd thinking NOAA is going to close up the electronic data products and make them only available to private industry for a high per user cost (like much else in the computer industry from stock quotes to mapping data). The truth is that I don't see any of this sort of thing going on, but rather some very hard working people in a low profit-margin business (even the most profitable companies don't really make that much money off of weather related products, and there is quite a bit of competition, not to mention relatively low barriers to entry, particularly compared to other industries). They are asking for legitimate debate, so study the facts first.

    Honestly, I don't know what the issue is about specialized data formats other than XML. XML has its uses, but it is not necessarily the best data format for every situation. If you are a software developer worth anything, you should be able to take data in any binary data format, even if encrypted, and be able to pull all of the data out of that data format. XML is only one way to provide that data.

    I will say that in addition to having much of the weather data collecting/processing being done at taxpayer expense, much of the weather data collection is done through a system that is largly volunteers. If you are interested in monitoring weather conditions, particularly if you live in a largely rural area (although urban areas can be of interest as well... it is just that there are many more people per sq. mile), you can volunteer to set up a weather station in your backyard and send the weather data to NOAA. Depending on the equipment you are willing to purchase, you can measure just about any atmospheric information that you can imagine, from pollution levels to current temperature and rainfall levels. Every data point that gives more detailed information helps to make the forecasting models more accurate. Sometimes NOAA will provide equipment, but you don't have wait for them to get it to you if you really want to volunteer and do this yourself (it just takes you own money if you go that route.) This is a stealthy Seti@Home like data project that has been going on for over 100 years, which is why you don't hear too much about it.

    Some commercial enterprises (particularly local radio and television stations, as well as a few private airports, seaports, and trucking companies) have their own weather stations that even by themselves could provide a local forecast, but there is a data sharing agreement between everybody involved (even competing TV stations, for example) to share weather related data. Obviously this can be a very bandwidth intensive operation if you really think about all of the information that can be collected. Who pays for this bandwidth? There is nothing in the current proposals that would stop a distributed P2P weather data group from forming, and indeed it would probabaly be encouraged if you could come up with a good system. Really. The commercial weather guys would love it on many levels.

    DISCLAIMER: I am not currently in the commercial weather industry. I had to help a couple of companies that were in the commerical weather industry to interface their products with some stuff that I was helping to develop, so I got a pretty good glimpse at some of the stuff they are developing, and some of the issues they d
  • by AndroidCat (229562) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:38AM (#9541707) Homepage
    The creation of a NWS mission lies in an act of Congress from 1890, before the automobile, the airplane, satellite platforms, radar, computers, and the Internet - 114 years ago.
    I had no idea that acts of Congress came with an expiry date. Important tip folks: Check your laws' Best Before dates frequently. And change the baking soda on a regular basis too--I think something's gone off in the civil right section.
  • taxpayers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spacepimp (664856) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:49AM (#9541743) Homepage
    if it is paid for by taxpayers monies, then it should be freely accessible.. why limit it to people who want a business model off of it. if it devalues their business model, so be it they were only pimping on something we already paid for. their content wasnt theirs to begin with.
  • Re:Middlemen (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cluckshot (658931) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:51AM (#9541749)

    I made an observation about the weather and its importance to daily life around the world one day when I tried to discuss the weather with the locals in the Philippines. (EH?) was the response. It never occurred to them that paying much attention to the weather was important.

    They get weather there and some times quite severe, but I found that the reason was simple. They knew that certain days of the year it would be dry others wet and stormy. If the wind was blowing a certain direction at a certain time of the year, it told them what the weather was.

    I suppose this is an over simplification but simply stated most of the world gets weather by the calender and by location. Weather in most of the world is pretty much boring. NORTH AMERICA and most specifically the Central Mississippi River Valley gets some pretty amazing weather. It is neither predictable by time of the year nor is it something that you can know by location. You cannot know it by wind direction and you cannot know it by other current conditions. It can bet amazingly dangerous or troublesome.

    Rain in this region of the USA and southern Canada can be accompanied by most dangerous condtions. Rain in this area rains Fertilizer as well (Nitrate) which is natural in origin. As such weather is to those of us living in that area a pretty important thing. To the rest of the human race, they have a hard time understanding our preoccupation with it.

    The logic of allowing US Government Weather Forcasting to be open to the public is an American Construct. It stems from our understanding that WE own our government. This is counter to the logic for most of the rest of the world. We are despite accusations to the contrary an Anti-Colonial force. The Colonial forces want to reoccupy our land and they are attempting to upset the logic so that they can force the middle men into weather just as they do in Europe and Asia. They are attempting to make everything even that which we have already bought and paid for into property we have to pay rent on. This is what the discussion is about.

    The NWS for basic Info has a lot more to add to the forecast stuff than you might think. If you want to see my current conditions [noaa.gov] here they are. Clicking on the side links can give you a hint of the level of data that we expect for free.

  • Be assured, this is all part of a plan to privatise the weather services. Big companies want your money and gaining a monopoly over services and goods you need is the best way to get it.
  • Re:Should be free. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bsane (148894) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:27AM (#9541866)
    Because the government should not compete with the private sector.

    So when I start my private army I can get the government to pay me and disband theirs?

    I'm glad I have your support for this plan.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:47AM (#9542034)
    Be assured, this is all part of a plan to privatise the weather services. Big companies want your money and gaining a monopoly over services and goods you need is the best way to get it.

    Fine with me. All they have to do is refund the
    entire expense of all the R&D and the cost of putting all those satellites in orbit, plus the cost of building and maintaining all those weather monitoring stations that my tax dollars paid for.
    I'm sure Mr. Myers won't have a problem with that.
    Shouldn't amount to more than a few billion dollars.

  • We do and should! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by L0C0loco (320848) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:48AM (#9542039) Homepage
    The government must fund and support the weather service activities simply because it is an issue of the health and safety of the public. By your reasoning we should privatize the military too. Given the fact that we (those of us that pay taxes at least) are already paying for this work and the information it generates, we should not have to pay for it again nor be required to provide a subsidy to the "weather corporations" so they can profit from it directly. They need to enhance the products by some value-added activity of their own.

  • Re:Should be free. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drooling-dog (189103) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:52AM (#9542064)
    Don't forget the most important distinction between the NWS and Accuweather: Only one of them can legally contribute to political campaigns. This, and not any quest for "efficiency," is the real engine behind privatization.
  • by zogger (617870) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:57AM (#9542099) Homepage Journal
    running your own doppler radar might get a little pricey though......
  • by nonameisgood (633434) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @10:02AM (#9542126)
    The military needs it. The White House needs it. As a matter of public good, pilots need up to the minute reports. Engineers need historical data, as do farmers and municipal planners.

    AND, who do you think runs the data acquisition end of things. All of the airport-based weather stations could never be duplicated by private enterprise due to sheer scope.

    And I imagine we all appreciate the pure research of the Storm Prediction Center and National Hurricane Center.
  • Re:Should be free. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blakestah (91866) <blakestah@gmail.com> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @10:06AM (#9542157) Homepage
    It might be a simple principle to George Bush.

    But there are, currently, dozens and dozens of small weather forecasting niches. People do weather forecasting for hang-gliding, or surfing, or wind-surfing, and do this by interpreting available NWS data.

    If the change in enacted, almost all of these small-time forecasters will go away. Anyone who wants weather information will be able to get it, either by paying accuweather, or by writing their own tools to interpret the freely available raw data. I have written tools to decode raw data, and it is not tricky work, but it takes some time.

    My viewpoint is that currently, all weather forecasting uses the same models and same data input, those of the military (FNMOC) and NWS. The raw data costs an enormous amount of money to get, and a small amount to provide through current web pages.

    The proposal, if enacted, would DECREASE available weather sources, not INCREASE it, and would result in a net DECREASE in the quality and quantity of weather forecasts to the public. The people who would profit will be those who write weather interpreting tools and provide them to others. It is asking for a government handout - plain and simple. Remove a government service, so we can provide it instead.

    The key point to keep in mind here is that ALL WEATHER MODELS and ALL FORECASTING MODELS are 100% owned by the government. The cost for development was ENORMOUS and EXTREMELY VALUABLE. Accuweather wants the VISUAL PRESENTATION to be removed, so they can use their own, and sell it, instead. The VISUAL PRESENTATION provides ALL the consumer value.

    I think the better analogy would be if the government wrote an operating system and a window manager and browser. Microsoft lobbied the government to remove the window manager only, so they could sell the whole package as their own.

    It will have a chilling effect on small niche weather forecasters, cost consumers more to get the same data (or worse), lead to no improvement in forecasting (remember the models will not change), and profit a few large weather companies substantially. Accuweather is just getting pissed off that the internet allows easy access to the same data they've always had easy access to, and it is eating their profit margin.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @10:30AM (#9542411)
    This guy can't make up his mind. I wish I could find the e-mail he sent us a few years back when we had to start charging for running a state-wide network. Back then Accuweather was whining because we were charging for our data. He complained that the public shouldn't have to pay twice... blah blah blah

    If the public wants to kill University, State, and Federal programs, then by all means, let your representatives know. Just remember when you can't get the data you need because parasitic companies like Accuweather can't get the data anymore, you were the one that cut it off.

    The bottom line is that weather data is NOT FREE. It takes a lot of money to create and maintain weather stations. The cost is worth it. If everyone knew how much they depended on it for biological modeling, conservation, aviation, general engineering, etc, they would not have a hard time with paying for it. Companies like Accuweather may provide some value-added products to data, but they do not contribute to the collection, quality, and maintenance of data.

    Weather networks are one of those things that government does very well. If you have to pay for it to keep it coming, then pay for it. Trust me, you are getting a hell-of-a-deal. If you think you can do a better job, then do it. Dont be shocked when you figure out that it is very difficult to make a viable private industry weather network profitable.
  • by Fear the Clam (230933) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @10:38AM (#9542489)
    You don't have to go through a third party to file taxes. However, the IRS does "encourage" people to file electronically.

    The problem is, this requires either (a) buying tax software which includes this feature, (b) paying for a tax service which has their feature in their store, or (c) re-typing everything from your completed federal tax forms into an online form of some third-party company that you've never heard of that may or may not be free, depending on how much you've earned that year. Oh yeah, and the site requires that you use Internet Explorer.

    Considering that I (a) do my taxes by hand and would have to enter my nine pages of forms and (b) owe the government money come tax time, so I'm no in a rush for a refund, I just send it snail mail.

    I know it's less efficient to have the IRS do the data entry themselves -- a college friend of mine once had a temp job removing staples for the IRS -- but until the IRS makes it worth my while to file electronically, I'm not going out of my way for their convenience.

    This is similar to the toll road transponders for cars. In the northeastern USA, there's a common system called EZ-Pass or SpeedPass. You can drive from PA to NH without stopping to pay a toll, which really eases toll plaza congestion. When they first came to MA, you had to pay for the transponder ($25). They even had some sleazy deal with a bank so you'd get a transponder if you opened an account with them. People stayed away in droves.

    NY state, on the other hand, wanted to encourage people to use them, so they gave away the transponder and a toll discount to anyone using them on NYC bridges and tunnels. People were interested and scooped 'em up. (I live in Boston, but I got my transponder from NY state.)

    If the IRS wants to get serious about people filing electronically, they need to make it worthwhile. Knock a few bucks off the taxes, provide their own software, something like that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @11:03AM (#9542711)
    So a government monopoly on weather services benefits us how exactly? Whenever taxpayers subsidize a service that could be provided in the marketplace, that subsidy undermines the development of true competition for that service.

    I have no problem undermining competition in road-building or power-cable-laying, or for that matter sewer-operating. Some services ought not be provided in the marketplace, as they're sometimes more basic than can be risked on the winds of capitalism.

    Weather information is the same way.
  • by ichimunki (194887) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @11:04AM (#9542719)
    You need a single organization for severe weather coverage to ensure public safety.

    Prove it. I don't think the public is going to be much or less safe just because they have a single agency doing this. A single agency represents a single point of failure, and in this case what recourse does the public even have if the NOAA screws up? If there are multiple agencies, there is nothing to prevent the government from contracting the weather services it does need out to one of them.

    As to conflicting warnings, I assume that most of the warnings would be the same type of stuff and that the public could make decisions based on a consensus model or majority of warnings thing. If all the major weather services are predicting dangerous weather, that seems like a better bet than if it's one small service being operated by boy scouts working on their weather merit badge.

    More likely I would think that if I have health or homeowners insurance or other policies that weather is likely to affect, that the insurance company would have a preferred weather service that they would require me to use when it comes to things like whether or not to board up my windows and vacate the area.

    Since we are paying for this service, why should access to the data be limited?

    Good question-- but one which argues against a point I never made and have no intention of attempting defend.
  • Horseshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Croaker (10633) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @11:36AM (#9543007)
    if there's something that the private sector is willing to do for-profit, then the government simply should not compete with them.

    Absolutist Libertarian drivel. You mean I can start up any business that dies something the government does, and then force the government not to do it anymore? So, if I start a business of printing IRS tax forms, and want to charge $50/ea. for 1040 forms, I can forc the IRS to stop printing and distributing them free?

    Why not let the government do the things it can do efficiently, and for the greater good, and let the private sector worry about the things it can do most efficiently? Free weather data is a huge benefit to all... like a (mostly) free road system. Why privatize it just so someone can extract extra money out of people?

    Most of the posts also miss the business model. The government collects the raw data, and that is made freely available. What Accuweather and the like do is turn that raw data into value-added products like maps with pretty colors, icons, etc. They translate the science into a form that average people understand.

    No one missed the business model. That Accuweather adds value by interpreting data doesn't perclude other individuals from getting the data the National Weather Service collects and doing the same thing for free. That's what the Accurweather people are asking for... a ban on the free flow of information. They want to privatize this public knowledge under lock and key, so they and they alone can profit from it. People aren't looking to shut down Accuweather... they are just asking for the same priviledge that Accuweather has.

    A value-added business model is perfectly fine. But if you cannot make a profit off of a freely available resource that you add value to, then you should find another business model, not try to privatize the free resource.

    Your argument that they don't hold the entire system so they shouldn't hold any of it doesn't make sense. Otherwise the analogy could be extended like this: Microsoft owns Windows, so other complanies shouldn't write software for it. Apple owns the OS AND the hardware, so other companies shouldn't write software for it. These are not sentiments often found on /. Why should weather forecasting be any different?

    Bogus analogy. Microsoft and Apple own their platforms. And yes, as owners of those platforms, they could close them to outside developers. Windows and OS X systems are open in that anyone can develop software for them. Apple and Microsoft know that if they tried to control the platforms to that level, they'd be sunk, because there's no way for them to develop all of the software people would want on a PC. The market wouldn't tolerate it.

    Have you tried to develop software for a the PS2, Game Cube, Xbox, or other gaming platform? Those aren't open systems. You have to get the developers kits from the owners of those systems. Do you see the /. crowd howling about that all day?

    Accuweather doesn't own the data collected by the national weather service. They have no part in creating that data. Closing the data to the general public because Accuweather wants to protect its business interests would be like Red Hat closing the source to Linux because they want to protect their revenue stream.

  • Re:Should be free. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @11:58AM (#9543217) Homepage

    Agreed. I am all for Accuweather and others using freely available data to produce forecasts suitable for various consumers. If they are adding substantial value, they will have no problems staying in business.

    The fact that they believe freely available data will kill their business model makes me wonder if THEY believe that they add substantial value!

    If they're not doing anything that can't be managed by any enthusiastic ameture with an internet connection and a bit of (possibly Free) software, they SHOULD fail. I see no reason they should be granted privileged access to data that the taxpayer paid to collect. Businesses that want to make a profit need to do something someone values. The more it's valued, and the harder it is to do, the more they stand to earn by doing it.

  • by UnrepentantHarlequin (766870) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @12:03PM (#9543258)
    So a government monopoly on weather services benefits us how exactly?

    This is not about a government monopoly on weather services. The government has been providing this information for decades. It is, in fact, the very data that private weather services use to base their forecasts on. Accu-Weather and other corporations do not want to stop the government from producing this data -- they want to limit the government to providing it only to corporations, not to private citizens, so that they can resell the information that we taxpayers have already paid for back to us at a profit.

    In addition, this would prevent some other entrepreneurial meteorology graduate student from using that data to make forecasts for local ski areas and eventually starting a weather company of his own ... which is how Joel Myers (Barry's brother) started Accu-Weather. This has nothing to do with a government monopoly on anything, and everything to do with protecting a few large companies from competition.

    Whenever taxpayers subsidize a service that could be provided in the marketplace, that subsidy undermines the development of true competition for that service.

    The private weather companies are not asking the National Weather Service to get out of the weather data collection and weather forecasting area. Those companies absolutely depend on the thousands of hourly observations collected by the NWS, on the computer forecast models generated by their supercomputers, etc. What those companies are demanding is that the NWS provide this data -- which we the taxpayers have already paid for -- only to the corporations, not to the taxpayers.

    Any time Accu-Weather wants to pay to establish a network of thousands of observation stations to get the weather data they depend on, buy a few of the world's largest supercomputers and develop their own software to run models, launch satellites to track global weather, etc., then they are entirely within their rights to make that data available only to their customers. But we pay for those stations, for those supercomputers, for those satellites, and all the rest -- the very services that Accu-Weather and other corporations depend on to generate their own forecasts -- and we have every right to the data generated from them in any and every format that the National Weather Service -- the people employed by the taxpayers to do the job -- wants to give it to us, their employers, in.
  • So, once you have no taxes and no government, how does that differ from anarchy?

    FWIW, the parent post presents a fairly radical view of Libertarianism. Libertarians by and large, are not in favor of *no* government, but want the smallest, least intrusive government possible.

    In the case of the United States, that generally means supporting the idea of a limited constitutional republic, with as much power as possible pushed down to the state, or preferably local level. This is so that decision making on things like spending and taxes happens as close as possible to the people affected by same. Thus the people are more directly able to influence those decisions, and government becomes more accountable / responsible.

    Libertarianism != Anarchy
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @12:41PM (#9543628)
    Prove it. I don't think the public is going to be much or less safe just because they have a single agency doing this. A single agency represents a single point of failure, and in this case what recourse does the public even have if the NOAA screws up?

    Imagine this situation...

    Category 3 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. One agency issues warnings for Texas/Louisiana Coast, the other agency issues warnings for Texas/Mexico border.

    What do businesses/homeowners do? Evacuations and closings cost BILLIONS of dollars and you have two widely spaced areas that have been warned.

    This shouldn't be hard to imagine because, it has happened in the past. One agency was the NWS (TX/Mexico) and the other was AccuWeather (TX/LA). Now, AccuWeather couldn't put out warnings, but they put out forecasts that differed significantly from the NWS. Luckily, people generally listen to warnings over forecasts, so there was little impact.

    As far as "who is responsible", do you honestly think that AccuWeather or Landmark Communications (Weather Channel) would be in business if you could sue them for incorrect forecasts?

    As to conflicting warnings, I assume that most of the warnings would be the same type of stuff and that the public could make decisions based on a consensus model or majority of warnings thing.

    Bwah, ha, ha, ha, ha. Thanks, I needed a laugh.

    The biggest weather threats to personal safety all develop fast and are highly unpredictable. The path and strength of hurricanes, snowstorms, and tornadic mesocyclones are hard to predict - there are too many variables and not enough observation resolution to allow to highly accurate models 100% of the time.

    During these times of crisis, you want the public to weigh each of options and try and make a informed choice? In the case of tornados, seconds can be the difference between life and death.

    Imagine what the public hears the night before a Nor'easter:

    "Well, ABC is saying that we are going to get rain. NBC is saying 30" of snowfall by tomorrow night, KYW is forecasting a dusting, and FOX has it sunny and warm throughout the weekend."

    And you want them to make a decision on this? This is the same public that has caused hair dryer manufacturers to put "Do not use while sleeping" on their product.

    More likely I would think that if I have health or homeowners insurance or other policies that weather is likely to affect, that the insurance company would have a preferred weather service that they would require me to use when it comes to things like whether or not to board up my windows and vacate the area.


    Homeowners insurance is based on climatological data, not on instantaneous weather conditions. As I said before, no forecast is going to protect your house if a tornado hits it; basing personal property insurance on an instantaneous occurrence doesn't make actuarial sense.

    Furthermore, an insurance company will take whatever steps are necessary to limited claims. This means that they may require those covered to "close up shop" at the drop of a hat. Such closings cost those covered significant amounts of money.

    On the other hand, a government agency does what is best for the public. There is no pressure to try and "scoop" the competition with an early warning (which we have seen time and time again with TV weather people). They realize that issuing warnings that prove false only wastes money and erodes confidence in their product.

    Bill C.
  • Re:Should be free. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by UnrepentantHarlequin (766870) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @01:01PM (#9543821)
    Because the government should not compete with the private sector. It's a simple enough principle, if there's something that the private sector is willing to do for-profit, then the government simply should not compete with them.

    When Accu-Weather establishes their own network of thousands of automated and manned data collection stations, when they launch their own weather satellites, when they buy some of the world's fastest supercomputers and write global weather modelling software for them, when they set up hundreds of radar stations, and when they get a time machine to gather weather records from a hundred years before the company was founded, then they might have the right to deny information critical to life, safety, and livelihood to anyone other than their paying customers.

    But since we, the taxpayers, own all of that, no private company -- not Accu-Weather, not anyone -- has the right to restrict the benefits of those taxpayer-owned resources to themselves.

    Accu-Weather was not the first private weather company. If a system such as they want, where some or all data is limited to distribution solely to existing corporations, then Accu-Weather would never have been born. A grad student named Joel Myers wouldn't have had access to the data he needed to start making forecasts for local ski areas, and eventually expand that to a worldwide weather service. Of course, that scenario is exactly in Accu-Weather's best interest. Remember, while it's in our interest, as consumers, to have open competition in any given market and a wide array of choices, it is in the interest of the companies in that market to reduce competition and to raise the highest possible barriers to entry into that market, to protect their own position. That's what this is all about.
  • by 87C751 (205250) <sdotNO@SPAMrant-central.com> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @01:30PM (#9544063) Homepage
    By your reasoning we should privatize the military too.
    Why not? Look how well it's worked for Iraq.
  • by gabebear (251933) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @01:44PM (#9544189) Homepage Journal
    The new proposal does extend the public's rights to the data, however, this document [weatherindustry.org] by Barry Myers is arguing that the NWS doesn't have the right to publish the data they create via the web because of a 1991 Policy that states:
    "The NWS will not compete with the private sector [Commercial Weather Industry] when a service is currently provided or can be provided by commercial enterprises, unless otherwise directed by applicable law."
    which is slated to be repealed if the new proposal goes through. The document Myers sent out goes on to say;
    "The recognition that the private weather industry is ideally suited to put the NWS information database into a form and detail that can be utilized by specific users is deleted."
    People are worried because if Myers has everything he wants, then the data the NWS publishes would closed to the public. I find it unlikely this would happen, but it's amazing what lobbyists can do.
  • Re:Should be free. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by canadian_right (410687) <alexander.russell@telus.net> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @02:03PM (#9544366) Homepage
    Bullshit. Private companies should not have a monopoly on information that was collected and processed using taxpayers money. The only thing these private 'weather' companies do is re-distribute publicly funded information.

    Now that technology makes is very cheap for the government to distribute this information the NATURAL free market result is that the private weather companies die. They no longer have a valuable service to provide.

    If these private weather companies had been the ones investing in weather stations, satelites and super-computers and then the government decided to move in and do the same you might have an argument. But this is not the case. These private weather companies are NOT weather forecasters - they are simply restributing information YOU paid your government to collect.

  • Re:Should be free. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoraLives (622001) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @02:57PM (#9544761)
    Bullshit. Private companies should not have a monopoly on information that was collected and processed using taxpayers money.

    Amen, brother!

    Below, my own unworthy letter to the NWS regarding the proposed policy, complete with cc's.

    As a SERVICE, subsidized by government tax revenue, the NWS should provide all raw and processed data that it generates, to the public for no additional charge above and beyond the original tax revenue that was collected.

    Paying for my weather twice, in the form of having to pay commercial services in order to obtain data that was originally collected using MY tax dollars, is a type of double taxation at best and outright theft at worst.

    The interests of public safety are best served by the widest dissemination of that data on which decisions can be made. Anyone who is unable to interpret the raw and/or processed data generated by the NWS is free to purchace additionally processed forms of that data from commercial enterprises, either directly, via subscription-based specialty services such as are available at Accuweather and other specialty outlets, or indirectly, via advertiser-sponsored services on the internet, television, radio, etc . No one should be COMPELLED to purchace additionally processed data if they choose not to do so.

    Commercial enterprises that advocate any other position can only be doing so in their OWN self interest as opposed to a genuine interest in PUBLIC safety. I find this to be an unacceptable position regarding a SERVICE that is, at its root, founded upon my tax dollar.

    If you have any questions or comments regarding the above, please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience at either my email address of "xxx@xxx.com" or my personal address at xxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx xxx xx xxxxxxx

    Regards,

    xxxxx xxxxxxxx

    cc:

    DL.Johnson@noaa.gov Conrad.C.Lautenbacher@noaa.gov devans@doc.gov myersb@accuweather.com

  • by rburgess3 (682428) <rburgess3NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:50PM (#9546936)
    GAH! no matter how many times you use the dang 'Preview' button, something always slips by. grrrrr.

    [The following text is public domain and may be used without attribution]

    I have just read over your proposed policy change, as well as Barry Meyer's response, available at this address: http://www.weatherindustry.org/BARRYMYERS-AMS-0318 04.doc . I must say that I cannot possibly disagree with Mr. Meyer more. The NOAA is a publicly funded institution providing data that could never possibly contain anything that would be classified.

    Accordingly, I am of the firm belief that any data collected by the NOAA should be made available to the public (i.e. the general population, not merely other agencies) as soon as is practicable, in whatever format is easiest for the public to consume.

    Mr. Meyer, and for that matter, the rest of the private weather sector, need to realize that they should never be the sole beneficiaries of the collective tax dollars spent each year by the U.S. in providing such a vitally important service.

    I am tempted to make the comparison of the difficulties that the RIAA and MPAA are currently having with the digital revolution. Mr. Meyer and the PWS need to update their business models, not attempt to change the law.

    [End of Public Domain Section]
  • by macdaddy (38372) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @11:52PM (#9548004) Homepage Journal
    I live in the sticks. I mean that literally. To 99% of the country I live in the middle of freaking nowhere. This town has no gas station. It doesn't have a grocery store. We have one cafe that opened less than a month ago. Main street is paved in bricks. This town has a population of 231 at the last census. You see as many horses on main street as you do trucks. By all accounts I live in a deserted area of the country (though heavily populated when compared to areas of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, or western Kansas. I do however live in one of the most important areas of the country, meteorlogically speaking. I live in tornado alley [google.com]. Don't know what "tornado alley" is? Lets just say that we have a helluva a lot of tornados, more so than anywhere else in the world. I live east of the nearest town with a TV station and weather dept. Take note of the word "east" because that's very important. Tornadic weather in this area almost always moves west to east in general (NW-->SE, SW-->NE, etc). More often than not our local TV stations have live coverage of all storms west of their area. No commercials, no regular programming, just wall to wall coverage of the cloud floating overhead. That all changes as soon as the storm passes their precious little town. We're only 2 counties east of the TV station(s), 90 minutes driving time from town, and yet they rarely ever bother to cover us. If we're lucky we might get a glimpse of a radar image in the corner of the screen. Beyond that we're on our own. NOAA is the only entity that seems to give a rat's ass about us. They aren't in it for the ratings like our local TV stations. They only care about weather and the areas being affected. Without NOAA we'd be up shit's creek. I have 2 NOAA pages loaded right now since a storm went through a few hours ago. NOAA's NWS pages are indespensible. Privatizing weather forecasting will only lead to them concentrating on highly populated areas. They wouldn't give a damn about us in the sticks. You know, the ones that feed this country.
  • by superflippy (442879) on Monday June 28, 2004 @04:32PM (#9554243) Homepage Journal
    I work for a university research group that is working with NOAA and other organizations to improve data collection and predictions associated with severe weather in our area. The truth is, there is not just one organization controlling all the information in the event of, for example, a hurricane.

    NOAA, FEMA, and state emergency management groups work together in the event of a disaster. They create plans ahead of time as to who will do what in order to avoid confusion. So it's NOAA's responsibility to decide whether a hurricane is category 3 or 4, but it's the state EMD's responsibility to tell people what to do in the event of a hurricane [state.sc.us].

    It's important to have a detailed disaster plan to avoid exactly the kind of scenario you describe. The current plan includes everything from when the Governor should announce a highway lane reversal to the format my research group's storm surge prediction should be delivered in. The media can use this plan to know who to contact for what information, and to tell people what to expect.

    And, to chime in on the topic, I think that NOAA's data should absolutely be free. Don't stifle research.

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