I was parsing through my inbox last week, and was reminded that the topic of access to government-produced geospatial base data continues to challenge society. While it isn’t a sexy issue, it is an important one.

On a separate note, I have an idea… Governments should recover the cost of building local roads by charging citizens a hefty up-front fee if they want to use them. Roads are already built, you say? So? They were costly to build, and putting the burden on taxpayers is unfair to people who are shut-ins and don’t travel on the roads.

Think this is a bad idea? What about charging folks for geospatial base data that taxpayers have already paid for, resulting in that data not being used by people who need quality information to make decisions about the world around us?

Both represent infrastructure investments. Both provide value only when they are used. And the negative long-term economic consequences of withholding either far exceed the revenue we might collect along the way (history has shown such revenues tend to be meager).

I think the main reason the "cost-recovery" model even exists is because geospatial data is abstract enough that policy-makers with noble, fiscally-responsible intentions didn’t understand that the economics of geospatial data are the same as the investments we make in things like roads and elementary schools. They pay off later; and if we try to make them pay off right away, we muck things up. I also presume that they weren’t aware that, even stripping out all the negative long-term impacts on society and the economy, "cost recovery" usually costs far more to implement than the revenues it actually brings in. Unfortunately, this model is very hard to remove once folks realize it probably wasn’t such a swell idea after all (due to inertia, cross-licensing agreements, and the smattering of folks who actually paid for the data who’d be understandably irritated if said data became free).