Current status of Open PSI support in Europe

(this page is part of my Open Data, Open Society report. Please follow that link to reach the introduction and Table of Content, but don’t forget to check the notes to readers!)

We’re still at the very beginning in terms of large scale attention and usage for (public) Open Data. However, in the last year, this theme has got much more coverage than in the past and some interesting announces have been made. Let’s then try very quickly to sum up the status of open data across Europe, with a partial summary of what happened in 2010 in some European countries.

In 2003, the EU Directive on the re-use of PSI introduced a common legislative framework regulating how public sector bodies should make their information available for re-use. On the 7 May 2009 the Commission published a review of that Directive, encouraging Member States and Public sector Bodies to take proactive measures to promote reuse. In the context of the Digital Agenda for Europe, the review of the Directive has been signaled as the key action of the initiative and is foreseen for 2012.

As of July 2010, all 27 EU Member States had notified the Commission that they had finished implementing these rules into national legal order. In spite of this, a measure of the Economic Impact of the PSI Directive in the Context of the 2008 Review showed that member states are not doing particularly well in implementing even the basic parts of the directive. The main reasons include lack of measurement tools and generally low understanding of and expertise with PSI. The executive summary of the MEPSIR analysis “clearly indicates that there still exist a considerable gap between the current situation and the one sought by the Directive”.

In practice, many of the public organizations that do make the PSI that they generate available to others still do it by selling those data with more or less restrictive licenses. The reason for such a strategy is to, at least, directly recover in that way all the costs of the generation, maintenance and distribution of that PSI. This practice, however, doesn’t appear so effective. Guarding the data is much more expensive than just publishing them on a server. It only makes sense if one is sure that there will always be enough users that can pay for those data to cover, in that way alone, both the initial costs faced to generate and maintain the data plus all the extra costs caused by enforcing access restrictions.

Besides, working in this way costs aren’t even shared fairly among all the users of the data because, unlike what happens with fees of highways and similar services, once access to data is granted accurate metering of their usage is impossible. There are even cases where many potential users don’t bother to pay simply because, thanks to the Internet, they can get the same or equivalent data for free… from other countries! For example SMHI, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, charges for access to weather data. As a result, (Swedish) people that needs to use Swedish weather data in their applications get them behind the corner, from the Norwegian authorities.

The practical consequences are that “recovering 1/5th of the development costs after years of sales is not uncommon and earnings for the public bodies that charge only the marginal costs are very limited". In 2007, the German government’s revenue from PSI was only EUR 164,000. Graves says “Marginal-cost pricing is not necessarily the answer. While public sector bodies may use differential pricing and recover more of their costs on certain products or users than on others, they may still restrict what is available. Moreover, when value is added, if a marginal price is charged, it is undercutting the competition."

An even more serious fact is that, under such strategies, data are closed also to any other government department that may need them, leading to serious inefficiencies and duplications of efforts, even when all that would be needed is comparison of different datasets. That’s why several states have started to pay more attention to the opportunities that can arise when data are opened. Here is a partial summary, in alphabetical order by country, of recent developments on this front.