Apr 222005

This page right here is the one I go to to check the weather. It’s put out by the National Weather Service. It’s a lot like some commercial ones, only it has more information, costs nothing and contains no ads.

But as the Carpetbagger Report notes here, Sen. Santorum (R) of Pennsylvania has introduced a bill that would ban the federal government’s meteorologists from making this information available for free since that creates a problem for outfits like The Weather Channel and AccuWeather, which want to sell it.

Plenty of federal legislation these days boils down to this sort of rip-off of the public. But seldom is the equation so clear.

You paid for the data. Your tax dollars fund a massive apparatus of meteorological data collection for reasons ranging from agriculture to disaster safety to keeping airplanes in the air — everything under the sun. You pay for it and this is just the feds making it available to you on a website. The cost of letting you access it must be minuscule compared to that of collecting it. Indeed, most of the data these other guys sell is stuff they get from the feds or fed-subsidized data collection.

So they’re in the business of selling to you the information that your tax dollars already went into collecting. And apparently they add so little added value that they can’t handle the competition when the National Weather Service just gives it away. Santorum wants to make these guys into some sort of information age tax farmers.

This article in the Palm Beach Post goes into greater detail on the bill. And you can see from its proponents feeble justifications just what a con this is. They note, for instance, that the bill would not prevent the National Weather Service from alerting the public to imminent disasters, which is awfully generous of them.

Indeed, the executive vice president of AccuWeather, Barry Myers, probably had to have his face specially treated with some sort of fixing agent to prevent him from laughing out loud when he told the Post that the "bill would improve public safety by making the weather service devote its efforts to hurricanes, tsunamis and other dangers, rather than duplicating products already available from the private sector."

You just can’t make this stuff up

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