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United States Government Businesses The Almighty Buck Politics

New Bill Would Ban Public NOAA Weather Data 567

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the privatization-overkill dept.
ckokotay writes "Here we go again. Apparently for-pay weather companies (specifically Accuweather) have lobbied Senator Rick Santorum to introduce a bill to ban the National Weather Service from 'competing.' The NOAA just made data available for free on the internet in XML format. Essentially, that means no more free data, and the possible elimination of the NOAA web presence all together. Nothing like being able to buy off a clueless Senator - lets hope the rest do not fall in line, as I for one, do not like to pay for my information twice." This debate picks up where the last one left off. According to the article, the bill's biggest critics are complaining of the bill's vague wording which makes it unclear what exactly is being banned.
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New Bill Would Ban Public NOAA Weather Data

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  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:02PM (#12308176) Homepage Journal
    Ok, here's how it'll work. I'll contract the US Dept. of Defense to do some guard detail for me, somewhere, where I contract out their services. once the DoD enters into these sorts of contracts, the next time the US invades some country I'll write Senator Rick Santorum, complaining bitterly how they've giving away their services for free and unfairly competing with my private business interests, (especially if I've contracted the DoD to guard the country they are invading.)

    Once the bill motors through the Senate and House, and has the signature of the prez (Hey, the GOP loves private businesses, right?) I'll be able to direct when and where war actually takes place.

    This should undoubtably improve my popularity gasp and maybe get me a gulp date with that cutie gosh I've had my eye on for a while!

    Ok, Kim's check bounced, you can invade now.

    • by Engineer-Poet (795260) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:26PM (#12308447) Homepage Journal
      Halliburton has beat you to it (and might hold the patent).
    • by secolactico (519805) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:26PM (#12308454) Journal
      It'll never work, unless you are a political contributor to Senator Santorum's political campaign.

      The good news is, it's cheap! Only $3550.00 [nictusa.com] for the favor.

      (Thanks to BooBoo at Fark for the link)
    • by ShaniaTwain (197446) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:38PM (#12308561) Homepage
      Ewww! santorum.. [google.ca]
      • Re:let me just say.. (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        In fact, the unsavory use of the word was coined [wikipedia.org] by gay sex-columnist Dan Savage to mock the Senator for his anti-gay political stances.
    • by rewinn (647614) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:51PM (#12308663) Homepage

      The next logical step is simply to privatize the Senate, and ban competing government organizations.

      After all, private lobbyists ALREADY write legislation, conduct research and collect money.

      What do we need a government-run Senate for?

    • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:52PM (#12308674) Journal
      I was thinking along those same lines... except... more like getting a law passed that said that the federal government could not compete with private corporations in general.

      The next step is for the Mafia to incorporate. They begin watching local businesses and... taxing them.... Then they sue claiming that the federal government has no authority to compete with them.

      Other similar variations included private toll road operators, private security forces, and new start-ups whose sole purpose is to hire people to do things that aren't necessary. By doing so, we could ban state toll roads, the Department of Homeland Security, and about 95% of civil service jobs at the federal level, respectively.

      Maybe it's just me, but this seems like a good start... but only if you -do- take it to the extreme. :-)

      • by KD5UZZ (726534) <slashdot...20... ... pamgourmet...com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:01PM (#12308749) Homepage
        Lets see if we both understand what the FA is talking about.
        NOAA collects all kinds of weather data. NOAA is paid for by my tax dollars. Therefore, I pay for that weather data.
        Right now I can get online and look at said weather data for free. I've also been able to get that very same weather data over radio via a system called EMWINS.
        This new bill would prevent me from getting access to the weather data I've already paid for (with my taxes) until I pay another entity (Accuweather was mentioned) for it...AGAIN.
        Why should AccuWeather make money by giving me access to data I've already paid for? I would think public records type laws would come into play here.
        • by Reziac (43301) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:44PM (#12310140) Homepage Journal
          You'd think, but haven't some states passed laws to the effect that the only way to READ their legal code is by way of a lawyer? (It was tangled up with copyright somehow, but that was the net effect -- no more public access to the legal code. I forget the details.)

          Not only that, but AccuWeather is by far the most INACCURATE weather service I've ever seen. When I see some TV news channel touting their AccuWeather forecast, I know I might as well change the channel, because if their forecast CAN be wrong, it WILL be.

          Point being, if the only way to get NOAA data is secondhand, filtered through some commercial forecaster of dubious competence, people who rely on accurate weather forecasting are going to suffer for it.

          As an alternative bill, I suggest that commercial entities like AccuWeather be required to gather their own data, at their own expense, and be forbidden from using taxpayer-funded services like NOAA.

    • (Hey, the GOP loves private businesses, right?)

      Hmmm. Lets see.

      -Pulic schools compete with private schools.

      -Free health clinics compete with paid medical service.

      -Police departments compete with private security and private investigation.

      -The US Postal Service competes with UPS and FedEx

      -Community theatre competes with Broadway

      Interesting facts about these services:

      1.In several of these activities, such as schools and the police, the stated goals of the public organization is to offer services at l
      • by Reziac (43301) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @11:05PM (#12310247) Homepage Journal
        1.In several of these activities, such as schools and the police, the stated goals of the public organization is to offer services at least as good as their private conterparts, but for no cost whatsoever to the consumer of the service."

        Well, no. My tax dollars already paid for those "free" school and police services. Just as in this case, my tax dollars have already paid for the "free" NOAA data.

        From TFA: Santorum made similar arguments April 14 when introducing his bill. He also said expanded federal services threaten the livelihoods of private weather companies.

        Since when does the government owe any corporation a living? If the corporation can't find a market and compete within it, that's just tough shit.

        But back to your point -- this bill is the exact equivalent of banning "free" public schools, because they "unfairly compete" with tuition-based private schools.

        More from TFA: "It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free," Santorum said.

        Evidently that market must be pretty damned good even with the NOAA's "free competition" -- otherwise how the hell did AccuWeather and its kin become multi-billion dollar businesses in the first place??

        More from TFA: AccuWeather has been an especially vocal critic of the weather service and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The company has accused the federal agencies of withholding data on hurricanes and other hazards, and failing to ensure that employees don't feed upcoming forecasts to favored investors in farming and energy markets.

        This from the very worst weather service I have ever seen in my 50 years on the planet. Even wild-assed guessing is more accurate than their forecasts!!

    • it's already happening

      'Private Security Contractor' is just a politically correct term for 'Mercenary'. There are already a host of beltway bandit, er um... I mean 'freedom loving free enterpise institutions' already doing this.

      Too bad mercenaries have no vested interest in peace
    • A lot of congressional leaders don't really understand the "spirit" of the Internet and it's values. We need a Slashdot lobby group to push for our needs like p2p, open source/free software, etc. I'm sure we could get a lot of emails in the inboxes of people like Santorum.
  • XML (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:02PM (#12308181)
    XML is like violence. If it doesn't solve the problem, use more.
  • Sure! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Guppy06 (410832) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:02PM (#12308184)
    ... just as soon as they build their own space launch facilities.

    If I'm not allowed to see the benefits of what my tax dollars are paying for, than neither should they. That means no more access to NOAA satellites and no more help paying for Kennedy Space Center and the heavy-lift rockets they need for their geosynchronus launches.

    I'm feeling generous, I'll let taxpayer-funded NORAD tell them if and when Something Bad is about to happen to their satellites, but beyond that...

    Without my money going to NOAA, these for-pay services would still be stuck with nothing but ground-based radar, to the point where I doubt they'd even spring to pay for off-shore buoys (where'd the profit be?). And that means things like not being able to see hurricanes until it's too late.

    They shouldn't be allowed to have it both ways, but I'm sure they'll get it anyway. Thanks, Congress!
    • Re:Sure! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:35PM (#12308532)
      You are spot on here. The simple fact of tha matter is that a multibillion dollar private weather industry has sprung up that is 95% dependent on NOAA resources to provide their most basic products. The Doppler radar that your local TV station bought and raves about is completely useless for forecasting, and things like mesoscale computer models and wind profiler networks that actually can provide useful data cost billions to maintain.

      The notion that all the companies whose existence is indebted to NOAA would lobby for something like this just makes my head hurt.
  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:02PM (#12308185)
    In response to:

    Barry Myers, AccuWeather's executive vice president, said 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.

    Ed Johnson, the weather service's director of strategic planning and policy, said:

    "If someone claims that our core mission is just warning the public of hazardous conditions, that's really impossible unless we forecast the weather all the time. You don't just plug in your clock when you want to know what time it is."
    And then this gem from Accuweather:

    Myers argued that nearly all consumers get their weather information for free through commercial providers, including the news media, so there's little reason for the federal agency to duplicate their efforts.

    "Do you really need that from the NOAA Web site?" he asked.


    Um, gee, if everyone already doesn't get their weather information from the National Weather Service, then what the fuck are they so worried about? Incidentally, the stated mission [weather.gov] of the National Weather Service is:

    The National Weather Service (NWS) provides weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. NWS data and products form a national information database and infrastructure which can be used by other governmental agencies, the private sector, the public, and the global community.

    Clear, timely, comprehensive, accurate - and now open [weather.gov] - weather forecasts are critical for many, many sectors of public and private society. The new, open formats of weather data also make its integration into myriad other services and tools trivial. It's only good for the public. I don't think Sen. Santorum realizes how critical the NWS's weather, climate, and marine data is to so many sectors of US society.

    The National Weather Service is funded for this mission, among others, by the taxpayers of the United States.

    I hope Rick Santorum realizes that in a world where this bill passes, there should also be a corresponding reduction of funding to the NWS, in addition to a wholesale change of its mission. In fact, what would its mission be?

    The best part of all of this is that in order for the NWS to effectively be able to gather the necessary data to still predict and warn against life- and property-threatening dangers, it still has to do almost all of the continuing data collection it does now. Removing the public access to this does absolutely nothing for anyone.

    Except for-profit weather forecasting providers like Accuweather, of course.

    For now, at least, Johnson of the NWS notes his agency is expanding its online offerings to serve the public.

    Remember, too, that a "bill" is just that. Time to remind your elected [house.gov] officials [senate.gov] of what you think...
    • The Obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ackthpt (218170) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:12PM (#12308292) Homepage Journal
      Um, gee, if everyone already doesn't get their weather information from the National Weather Service, then what the fuck are they so worried about?

      Clearly you're being rhetorical, but I'll fire off a response anyway:

      Accuweather: For $20 I'll tell you whether you're in danger or not.

      Me: I don't want to pay $20, that's crazy.
      Accuweather: Oh, your safety isn't worth $20? How about you watch a bunch of commercials before we show you if you're in danger or not?
      Me: I shouldn't have to sit through a bunch of ads to see that I'm in danger! Next it'll be the emergency sirens, won't it? "Emergency bulletin regarding public safety, but first, theses messages from our sponsors..."
      Accuweather: We have a right to make a buck.
      Me: Sure, but not at the expense of my safety!
    • by JWW (79176) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:24PM (#12308429)
      Wow! You make it sound like the National Weather Service promtes the general welfare or something.

      Where does it say that the government should do that??!

      Oh - wait. Maybe someone should send Santorum a copy of the #%!#@!!? Constitution!!
      • by fizban (58094)
        Wouldn't help. Santorum has his own copy of the Constitution that he and his Republican byatches have been writing from scratch.

        Would someone please tell me WHY these people continue to get elected? Is half the population of the U.S. just completely blind and ignorant to the damage these guys are doing to our country? It's one thing to be pro-business. I love business. I love money. It's what makes the world tick. I write stock-trading software for a living, for bejeezus sake. Money is my lifeblood. But it
    • by OneOver137 (674481) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:26PM (#12308451) Journal
      Unless I'm totally wrong, most of the weather data the commercial companies use is derived from public owned--and taxpayer funded-- assets like GOES and the myriad NEXRAD sites around the country.

      IMO, the NWS is one of the few examples of a sucessful government entity. I think this is one of those examples, like the military, that a public agency is far superior than a for-profit corporation.
      • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:50PM (#12308655)
        No, you're exactly right.

        But that's the thing: companies like Accuweather would love to launch their own private commercial satellites and provide the data themselves, for a fee. The net result would be a focus on profitable ventures, an attentiveness to urban and densely populated areas (i.e., those who will pay), and complete ignorance of rural areas and major swaths of the country (except where profitable for, e.g., commercial food growers).

        Sure weather providers may get some data from government-operated satellites now. They just want to legislatively cripple the agencies that administer them, and their data, so that they control it all themselves. A few hundred million dollars to launch some satellites is nothing if they're guaranteed a corner on the market for crucial information.
        • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:11PM (#12308838)
          If there is money to be made, private industry doesn't need to worry about government competition.

          I can think of plenty of ways to offer better data to the consumer than what NOAA provides. Aggregating public and private information and providing that to subscribers is a great idea!

          Personally, it's nice to check out the NOAA radar maps before I head out on a bike ride. However, because of the location of the regional radar (San Jose), I can't get a great idea of what obstacles I might face in riding from San Francisco to Marin. Overlaying the radar data from multiple sources might provide me with more useful information.

          NOAA doesn't always provide the best information in terms of point-forecasts, and there is a market ($$) for someone to do a better job. The problem is that people like the Weather Channel and Weather Underground were the original obnoxious advertisers! Their weather forecasts were not worth the "cost" of the advertisements. On the other hand, some of of the "personal weather stations" were pretty useful.

          This is bad legislation. If you want to "cripple" NOAA, cut their budget to make it easier for private competition to do a better job. I don't support it, but if you want to stick with Republican values, that is the only way to go.
  • Contact the senator (Score:5, Informative)

    by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:03PM (#12308187) Homepage Journal
    here [senate.gov]
    • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:08PM (#12308256) Homepage Journal
      Santorum is "analubepoo" [urbandictionary.com]
    • Better yet... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      ...write him a letter or give him a call:

      Santorum, Rick- (R - PA) Class I
      511 DIRKSEN
      SENATE OFFICE BUILDING
      WASHINGTON DC 20510
      (202) 224-6324
      Web Form: santorum.senate.gov/contactform.cfm [senate.gov]


      Source [senate.gov]
    • by thogard (43403) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:23PM (#12308424) Homepage
      My comments:

      I've heard about your bill to limit access to weather data.
      please research what this has done in Australia and look to how many people have been killed already because of this type of plan. A good place to research is the "sydney to hobart race 1998." That was a boat race but the organizers running the race relied on private weather information since the government had just started privatized the Bureau of Meteorology. The result was that 6 people died, several boats sank and the coast guard spent over 10 million dollars on rescue of the 115 boats. The total bill for "user pays weather" was $700 million dollars.

      A second example of why this is wrong involves aviation weather and its resulting deaths. I don't want a small plane falling out of the sky because the pilot didn't get a good weather briefing. Australia also provides evidence that people will not properly check weather if it isn't free and therefor endangering other people.
    • by XorNand (517466) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:36PM (#12308546)
      I wish people would stop recommending that "people write their congress rep" eveything an innane law pops up. These people don't care, hell I bet most don't even read their own mail. With these web based forms and email, I'm sure peoples' opinions are a dime a dozen and most are immediatly filed promptly into /dev/null.

      What you should do is write your local newspapers. Editors are always looking for well-written commentary. Anything that stirs up the shit a little bit is a bonus (and that isn't hard to do when writing about politics). Write something insightful and get it in front of thousands of readers. That is the only way you'll get the attention of these bought-and-paid-for congress critters. Turn the heat up a bit and they'll be less likely to try to slip something like this under the radar again.
      • by sphealey (2855) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:03PM (#12308768)
        I wish people would stop recommending that "people write their congress rep" eveything an innane law pops up. These people don't care, hell I bet most don't even read their own mail. With these web based forms and email, I'm sure peoples' opinions are a dime a dozen and most are immediatly filed promptly into /dev/null.
        Um, no. Some congressmen have staffers who actually read letters; others don't. But they all at least count the number of letters they get on a particular topic. And I have talked to staffers who have told me that from time to time a letter actually does make a difference.

        Now, using the web forms and e-mail is probably useless. You need to print it out, sign it in blue ink, put a stamp on it, and mail it. Which very few slashdotters will ever do.

        sPh

        • by bluGill (862) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:59PM (#12309881)

          Well maybe not for all congressmen, but most are paranoid about paper mail. Remember the anthrax scares of a few years ago? Staffers are still afraid. When mail arrives at their office they don't open it, they send it to an irradiation plant, then open it. The process intentionally takes weeks. (Some poisons are better destroyed by time than irradiation)

          A post card is better because there is no easy way to hide poison on it (without killing everyone in the post office anyway). Still best is an email or fax, which cannot be tampered with by the sender.

          Bill Frist's web site [senate.gov] has a side bar "PLEASE NOTE: security restrictions now cause considerable delay in processing postal mail sent to the offices of Senator Frist. Accordingly, please consider e-mail, fax"

      • by jvv62 (236967)
        I wish people would stop recommending that "people write their congress rep" eveything an innane law pops up. These people don't care, hell I bet most don't even read their own mail.

        On most issues a congressman or senator gets less than a hundred letters, even less than ten. Any issue that gets a lot of letters that are clearly from a) constituents, b) different people, and c) not form letters gets a lot more attention from the office.

        At this point a well written original email on a subject will also g

      • Uhm... (Score:4, Informative)

        by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:36PM (#12310093) Homepage
        Why not do both: write to your senator AND the papers?
  • That sucks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:05PM (#12308207) Homepage
    Seriously: tough luck to weather companies! If this is a public service for Americans given by their government, then the American public should be allowed to use that service. Considering they paid for it with their taxes, I don't see how this bill could be passed!
    • Re:That sucks (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ottergoose (770022) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:16PM (#12308333) Homepage
      I'm a developer for a small weather software company and we rely on the NWS for a lot of information (forecasts, etc.) for one our products [alertmepro.com][/shameless plug]. If this becomes law, our software won't work anymore. 2 people cannot write 7 day forecasts for every county in the USA.
      • by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:23PM (#12308415) Homepage
        Seriously, either write to them or call them up explaining that you are about to go out of business because of this proposed bill. Unless they know about you (they most likely won't), then they won't be able to lob this little bomb on Rick Santorum, who then will be unable to say that his bill is designed to protect businesses. After all, it's a bit hard to say this when other senators are giving examples of companies his bill will put out of business!
    • Re:That sucks (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pete6677 (681676)
      Obviously this is just another case of a business entity thinking the taxpayers can pay most of the costs of their business model but then they can keep most of the profits. I guess they figured if it works for professional sports it could work for them too. But seriously, corporate welfare is getting out of hand. I say if the weather forecasting companies want the NOAA to not make their data available to the public then it should no longer be a taxpayer funded service and Accuweather can pay out the ass to
  • Google Santorum (Score:4, Informative)

    by myheroBobHope (842869) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:05PM (#12308212) Homepage Journal
    He is an extremley conservative senator, and so Dan Savage of Savage Love decided to name something horrible after him and try to overtake Santorum's official site as the number one site on Google. He succeeded... Hilarity Ensued. Check it out!
  • Free as in Taxes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Drubber (60345) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:06PM (#12308217)
    Uh...free? I think I just paid for some of that data. Maybe Accuweather could compete the old fashioned way--in the marketplace.
  • by Monf (783812) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:06PM (#12308224)
    the Weather Channel is asking cable companies to add a surcharge based on the number of windows in a subscriber's household, to recoup lost revenues due to subscriber's looking outside to see what the weather is like...
  • hypocrites (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:06PM (#12308230)
    If accuweather is so concerned about the national weather service undermining private companies, this bill should also forbid the national weather service from providing their data to accuweather itself. By providing all this data to accuweather, they are undercutting the ability of private comapnies to set up their own weather monitoring instruments and SELL the data to accuweather.
  • Well (Score:5, Interesting)

    by computerme (655703) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:07PM (#12308243)
    Well Senator M-O-D Santorum had better hurry up and pass the bill because he is about to have his lunch handed to him in his 2006 relection efforts:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/4/21/11132/98 65

    He's dropping faster than a rock so if this bill is stalled or set aside Accuweather will have to find some other "go to" guy...

    Not that would be too difficuly unfornataly...
  • Public Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon&gmail,com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:11PM (#12308290)
    Dad gummit. I PAID for NOAA....with my TAXES. I have EVERY right under FOIA to all that data. The nly reason this is being brought up is the Accuweathers, the DTN's and to a lesser extent, the Weather Channels of the world.
  • by overshoot (39700) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:12PM (#12308294)
    If the basic idea of this bill is sound, we should consider the benefits of:
    • Restricting access to economic reports
    • Restricting access to research results
    • Restricting access to USDA food safety data
    • Restricting access to FDA drug approvals
    • Restricting access to laws, including the tax code
    • Restricting access to Congressional records, including proposed legislation
    • I'm sure there are others

    The Congressional part especially has a lot of merit, since I'm sure Congress would prefer that we not find out about stuff like this except as duly authorized sources see fit to pass it along.

  • by Laconian (578463) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:12PM (#12308298)
    Santorum (n.)

    1. That frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex.

    2. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)
  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:14PM (#12308312) Homepage Journal
    Accuweather is headquartered in Pennsylvania. And Santorum is a senator from PA. I mean, come on, what are the odds of that? ;)
  • Bill text (Score:5, Informative)

    by Goobergunch (876745) <martin.goobergunch@net> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:14PM (#12308314) Homepage Journal
    Here's the text of S. 786 [loc.gov]. Thankfully, no co-sponsors yet. Here's hoping that most Congresspeople see this bill for what it is - lunacy.
  • by Catamaran (106796) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:16PM (#12308338)
    The government should just get out of the information business. The free market is the best way to ensure that we get the most [foxnews.com] unbiased [cnn.com] information [theonion.com].
  • by ivi (126837) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:18PM (#12308360)
    We pay taxes... so, collectively, we are
    - in effect - like members of a cooperative
    (analogy: farmer's co-op), and - for part
    of our "co-op fees" (ie, taxes) - we get
    services, such as weather data, etc.

    C'mon, lawyers in the /. audience (L Lessig?)
    help us get value for our "co-op fee" bucks,
    here. ;-)
  • by overshoot (39700) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:20PM (#12308387)
    The military pointed out that if NOAA didn't do weather forecasts, the DoD would have to hire all of the NOAA forecasters just so that the military wouldn't be left without mission-critical information.

    Add to that that other government agencies (both Federal and State) would have to staff up, duplicating the no-doubt-now-classified military work. Bottom line is that shutting down the NOAA forecast role will be a sizable net cost to the US, along with some unknown harm to both the economy and national security.

    Great move, Senator.

  • Don't Worry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ET_Fleshy (829048) <lespea&gmail,com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:20PM (#12308395)
    Aviators everywhere depend on NOAA for weather [aviationweather.gov] all the time and AOPA [aopa.org] will never let this bill get passed. AOPA has a long history of protecting the citizens from stupid laws like this so I'm not worried at all.
  • What about GOES? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Patrick Mannion (782290) <patrick.mannion@gmail . c om> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:21PM (#12308402) Homepage Journal
    I wonder this will include GOES satellite data. This will be a major blow to me becuase I run my school's weather center. This is stupid if you ask me? Hopefully this won't spell the end for the NWS.
  • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:22PM (#12308412) Homepage
    Workaround: Learn to read FAA weather reports. It will be a little difficuly to take away access through that channel.
  • by saforrest (184929) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:23PM (#12308417) Homepage Journal
    "It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free," Santorum said.

    Perhaps we can we expect Senator Santorum to next intervene on behalf of the unjustifiably repressed legions of private firefighters, police, water safety testers, and maintainers of roads?

    After all, it's hard to compete in the market when the government does it for free!

    This is also a good time to mention Spreading Santorum, a personal crusade by the advice columnist Dan Savage to popularize the use of the word 'santorum' to describe a (mostly) gay sex act, with the intention of embarrassing the anti-gay senator: spreadingsantorum.com [spreadingsantorum.com]
  • spin (Score:5, Funny)

    by Phroggy (441) * <slashdot3NO@SPAMphroggy.com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:25PM (#12308435) Homepage
    You should definitely check out the official spin on this:

    Santorum Proposes to Modernize National Weather Service to Better Serve Public [senate.gov]
  • NOAA != NWS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:28PM (#12308469)
    Just so everyone understands, we here at NOAA provide many other products and services that have nothing to do with the National Weather Service. Check out noaa.gov to see the eight major areas of work, of which weather is just one. :)
  • by Jason Pollock (45537) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:31PM (#12308495) Homepage
    Now, I only worked (past tense) for the NZ MetSvc for 10 months so I've probably got this stuff wrong. :)

    My understanding is that by agreement national weather services share data with each other without charge - other than data distribution charges.

    If the US started to charge for this, they might run into problems with (say) the UKMO.

    It is standard practice for met organisations to make their model data freely available, Environment Canada does this:

    http://weatheroffice.ec.gc.ca/grib/index_e.html

    The WMO lays it out pretty clearly:
    http://www.wmo.ch/web/pla/Res40Cg-XII.do c

    If the US govt decides not to offer XML anymore, that's fine, they'll probably have to provide the grib... Grib is a lot bigger than the XML...

    Google for "free grib data". GRIB is the file format used by the computer models.

    So, if we really wanted to, we could parse the GRIB data and relay it as XML for everyone else.

    Jason Pollock
    • Despite of international agreements, the German Wether Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst, DWD) doesn't publish data for free. They sell them to commercial companies which provide forecasts for media. The DWD publishes weather forcasts ans warnings but not the data the forecasts are based on. Tzey worward station measurements to other weather serveces for free according to the WMO agreement but the other European weather services don't publish them either because most of them have similar policies than the DWD
  • NO! NO! NO! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sk999 (846068) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:32PM (#12308499)
    I actually had an Accuweather account for years, dial-up (paid for long distance bill plus $10 per month). I stopped using it once weather via internet (both gopher and later http) became available because the internet product provided vastly more information (like satellite .gif images, radar maps) and in a much more usable format. The cost was only secondary. Remind me again, how will this bill better serve the public?
    • RTFA (Score:3, Informative)

      by geekee (591277)
      "The cost was only secondary. Remind me again, how will this bill better serve the public?"

      RTFA. Don't rely on biased /. posts. The opposing viewpoint is that the NOAA is wasting taxpayer money providing these services for free. Their arguemnet is the public is better served paying less taxes for service they don't necessarily need.
  • by Cryofan (194126) <cryofan AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:34PM (#12308520) Homepage Journal
    Our constitution defines treason as aiding and abetting the enemy. Clearly our greatest enemies are the corporations. I call for Santorum to be tried as a traitor. If he is convicted, he should be sentenced as harshly as possible.

  • NOAA's voice? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ayeco (301053) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:49PM (#12308644)
    What's NOAA have to say about this? Do they WANT to only be responsible for warnings?
  • So looking at S. 786 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HarryCaul (25943) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:50PM (#12308658)
    We see the following seemingly contradictory clauses:

    XXX

    (b) COMPETITION WITH PRIVATE SECTOR- The National Weather Service shall not provide, or assist other entities in providing, a service or product (other than a service or product described in subsection (a)(1)(A)) that is or could be provided by the private sector unless--

    (1) the Secretary determines that the private sector is unwilling or unable to provide such service or product; or

    (2) the United States Government is obligated to provide such service or product under international aviation agreements to provide meteorological services and exchange meteorological information.

    (c) ISSUANCE OF DATA, FORECASTS, AND WARNINGS- All data, information, guidance, forecasts, and warnings received, collected, created, or prepared by the National Weather Service shall, to the maximum extent practicable, be issued in real time, and without delay, in a manner that ensures that all members of the public have the opportunity for simultaneous and equal access to such data, information, guidance, forecasts, and warnings.

    XXX

    Don't compete, but you have to inform the public, "without delay" in a way that the public "have the opportunity for simultaneous and equal access to such data, information, guidance, forecasts, and warnings."

    Hmmmm.
  • It isnt free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:55PM (#12308692) Homepage Journal
    We paid for it via taxes.

    Corporate control of this country is sickening.
  • by Paradox (13555) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:55PM (#12308701) Homepage Journal
    Basically, the Air Force will not let this happen. The Air Force is reliant in many ways upon the NOAA data for its forecasts.

    While NOAA does make its data available over a satellite uplink (called a NOAAPort), this data is typically only used for detailed local modeling and display on AWIPS terminals. I've personally witnessed Air Force Forecasters using the NOAA website and its XML data to do their reports, and that is part of The Procedure.

    Which means, it costs a huge boat of money to change, which means it costs concrete tax dollars which must be allocated to cover the costs to change. You and I might find such a change trivial, but I assure you the sheer volume of paperwork that needs to be revised, analyized, reported on and certified means that the process would easily take millions, and take years.

    No. As much as Accuweather would like to stifle NOAA to turn a profit, they're too late on the scene.
  • by scoove (71173) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:28PM (#12308952)
    Senator Santorum's bill would probably cause a measurable loss of life, given that numerous spotters such as myself rely upon NWS's Internet-accessible data to assist us in our spotting activities.

    I just returned from spotting in extreme southwest Iowa (and am actually headed back out, as we have flash flooding to assess). I'm a trained weather spotter (not a chaser, mind you) and am an amateur radio operator. I'm one of two active spotters covering the far southwest-most county. Unlike spotting in a major metro (where I was first active), rural spotting often requires you work without a lot of coordination from net control at the NWS offices. We have to move to cover the storm, and this requires we watch NWS radar data very closely - both to allow us to be positioned to get a good view of activity (e.g. the north of most typical Midwestern supercells is a great place for hail but not for visibility - get southeast of it!), and to cover our backsides when things suddenly change and we're too close to the action.

    I've used Intellicast, Accuweather and other sites. Their free data is delayed, poor, lacking sufficient detail, and simply not usable. As I donate annual training, several thousand dollars of equipment, radios, mobile broadband Internet, and my time, I'm not about to also purchase a subscription to Accuweather just so I can assist NWS and save lives. (A note about the NWS XML example: I've actually prototyped an XML to APRS relay of NWS data that uses their XML feeds - it's not just webpages we require!)

    The people that will suffer will be those of you who are not weather aware and count on the quiet volunteers out there watching your back. Santorum's bill might prohibit our access to open source information and provide a handful of investors with financial gain, but it'll be someone's grandma in a rural community who will pay for that gain.

    Please email your Senators on this bill and let them know that open source information is our property. Your weather spotters and ultimately our communities depend on this access.
  • by dhasenan (758719) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:35PM (#12309001)
    S 786 states that the NWS must publish the information it collects and generates to the general public immediately. It also states that the NWS can't publish information in so doing it competes with the private sector. So the NWS is actually prevented from making weather reports (and this would, in fact, include hurricane warnings).
  • by Hamster Lover (558288) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @08:02PM (#12309157) Journal
    the DC area to experience a shower of bullshit tapering to blowing turds in the early evening. Accumulations of twelve to fourteen inches are anticipated while Congress is in session...
  • by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon&gmail,com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:40PM (#12309740)
    http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c109:1:./tem p/~c109lAuHez:: [loc.gov]

    Here's the bill and TFA is right. Also, it's very short, which tells me the senator from PA has no idea why this is a bad idea. DO fill out a web form for your senator. Make this bill die on thefloor of the senate.
  • by meburke (736645) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:44PM (#12309775)
    AccuWeather's argument reminds me of the example used in Frederick Bastiat's "Economic Sophisms" where the candlemakers argued for legislation to block sunlight because it deprived them of their just livelihood. Pathetic, isn't it?
  • by windows (452268) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:54PM (#12309844)
    It's misleading that the article suggests NOAA just scrapped a policy that stated what the National Weather Service's role would be in relation to private industry. A law had been in effect defining these roles, but the law had expired. In absence of such regulation, NOAA found an applicable OMB requiring them to disseminate the data in an open format. NOAA has made an effort to comply with the regulation and follow the law.

    It is absolutely false that the NWS spends lots of time producing forecasts of warm and sunny. This is nothing short of a lie. Forecasts are issued twice daily in most situations. It will still be necessary for the NWS to produce a forecast in all cases because even if it's warm and sunny today and tomorrow, it's very useful for example to monitor and be aware of a storm system that will have an impact a few days out. Forecasts are produced more often or are updated when a change in the weather is expected, such as showers and thunderstorms. This is referred to as nowcasting and is a necessary function of the NWS. While I can't cite this as a fact, I would expect a much greater amount of time is spent nowcasting or forecasting significant weather than is spent producing these forecasts of warm and sunny.

    The National Hurricane Center disseminates information about tropical cyclones and is not disseminating these forecasts of warm and sunny that the private industry suggests NOAA spends too much time doing. The NHC has an extremely important function and is working to improve its products for the purpose of providing better alerts to the general public about approaching threats. To suggest the NHC is hampered by such duties as producing warm and sunny forecasts is a lie.

    Furthermore, it is extremely important that accurate weather data be available to emergency managers and to weather spotters. These are important beneficiaries of data such as radar data and nowcasts produced by the NWS and the Storm Prediction Center. While emergency managers will likely pay the fee and get access to data provided by private industry, it is less likely that spotters, which are the general public, will be willing to pay. Effectively, this could cripple an important means of detecting severe weather. I guarantee that without accurate radar data, I'm not going to try to spot a tornado and relay the information in; it's just too dangerous.

    I am a meteorologist and I have also heard the opinions of many other meteorologists that I attend school with. The consensus about companies such as the Weather Channel is that they do not provide accurate timely data. Their on-air personalities generally have little knowledge of meteorology. They operate their own forecast model which my fellow meteorologists do not believe produces quality and reasonably accurate solutions. And I've heard that many of the actual meteorologists at the Weather Channel lost their jobs. Anyone who's watched their broadcasts probably has noticed their tendencies to focus on the East and West Coasts even when the middle of the country is receiving severe weather. They hardly do a reliable job of disseminating information about potentially dangerous weather to the public. Is this really who we want in charge of forecasting and providing information to the public?

    I find this bill to be based around lies and to have the ability to be extremely harmful to the ability to detect severe weather. The Senate should not approve this bill.
  • by Kymermosst (33885) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:23PM (#12309995) Journal
    This is simply a public safety issue. Period. Should we rely on a private entity to provide hurricane or tornado warnings? Does this apply to NOAA weather radio?

    The reason weather data is made available to the public is because it enables the public to go about their business in a safer manner that is planned around the obstacles that weather tosses in the way.

    From commercial passenger and freight aircraft, ships, and other forms of commercial transit, to the commuter just trying to get to work, free weather data from NOAA is an essential part of the economy.

    Shall we require pilots to subscribe to AccuWeather in order to know the weather forecast for their flight path? I think not.

    Normally, I'm not a fan of the government doing what private business can do, but NOAA has become essential to public infrastructure. It's not a perfect analogy, but you wouldn't let a for-profit private company run the (armed) police department, while it may be perfectly appropriate for private companies to provide *additional* security services on top of what the public provides through the police.

    Start writing your representatives and Senators now.
  • This is ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Feztaa (633745) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:39PM (#12310111) Homepage
    It needs to be said.

    Public tax money pays for this weather data to be collected. The public has the RIGHT to access this information, because they've already PAID FOR IT.

    If a private company can not survive doing "value-add" with this free information, then that company does not deserve to exist. Plain and simple. You can't ban that information from being free and then charge people for it!

    There are only two ways to procede with this problem. Either the government stops spending tax money recording the weather information, leaving the corporations to set up and maintain their own weather stations, or the entire board of directors of AccuWeather is drawn and quartered. Either one is fine with me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:45PM (#12310148)
    As an ex-employee of AccuWeather, I'm really not surprised to see this. Joel Myers is a corrupt tyrant. Slimeball Pennsylvania politicians were always coming into the building to meet with him. There's a picture hanging in the hallway of Myers shaking hands with Bill Clinton. I'm not surprised he has Santorum in his pocket now.

    During my years at AccuWeather, there seemed to be only two things Joel Myers tried to accomplish - to stop NOAA, and to prevent the employees from creating a union. Joel Myers treats his employees like slave labor. He entices young meteorology students from Penn State into signing contracts with them - then works them rediciously long hours without compensation. If you want to quit, they will sick their horde of corporate lawyers on you quicker than you can bat an eyelash. Their lawyers write up big complicated contracts with their customers, which happen to have automatic renewal clauses if AccuWeather is not notified by certified mail within 60 days of the end of the contract. This is the way they run their business. They don't give a shit about their employees, customers, or the general welfare of American citizens who support NOAA with their tax money.

    Anyone in Happy Valley reading this, avoid working at this place like the plague!

    By the way, for those of you who don't know Rick Santorum, you may remember him from a few years ago when he made national headlines by comparing homesexuality to incest and beastiality.

    Several years ago, before Rick Santorum was a big shot politician, I was living in Pittsburgh and he was running for some local office, going door to door trying to get support. I was in middle school at the time, in the yard playing with my dog. She saw Santorum coming and didn't like him at all.. she ran to him, started barking and growling. I guess she was a good judge of character.

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