Policy makers in many countries are debating whether it is worthwhile to open their National LiDAR holdings – collected with tax-payer money – for free (or cheap) open access or whether they should continue to restrict access and charge potential users of the data to recoup expenses. Most would agree that hurdle-free, instant online access allows to exploit this valuable resource to the fullest and to maximize its benefit to the citizens. But some argue that opening this data eliminates the revenue stream the government needs to finance future surveys. Is this really true? No!
On November 21st, 2014 Louise Huby made this “Freedom of Information” request to the Environment Agency which are responsible for collecting, processing, and selling LiDAR data and derivatives for England with a focus on flood mapping applications. This seems to mainly be handled by the Environment Agency Geomatics, a specialist business unit within the Environment Agency.
Dear Environment Agency, Please could you provide me with a breakdown by year of all revenue made from the sale of LiDAR Data? Yours faithfully, Louise Huby
Later she added
Please could you provide me with a breakdown by year of all revenue made from the sale of LiDAR Data?
Could you provide me with the information requested for the following years: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.
A week later, on November 28th, Louise Huby received this answer:
Hence the annual sales turnover (*) for LiDAR data was around £323,000 per year between 2007 and 2014. It would be interesting to know how the annual average of £323,000 divides up further in terms of delivered products (raw LiDAR points or derivative), individual sale volume, price per square kilometer, type of customer, … Another request anyone?
(*) Sales turnover is the total amount of revenue generated during the calculation period. The revenue included in this calculation is from both cash sales and credit sales.
According to Wikipedia, the Environment Agency had an operational budget of £1,025,000,000 in 2007/08 (about half of this for flood risk management). This means the renevue from LiDAR sales is equivalent to 0.03 percent of the Agencies’s operating budget. I find this number shockingly low. Is this meager sales revenue an acceptable reason to keep the LiDAR locked up and inaccessible to the public?
- The main customer of LiDAR are the many branches of government from municipalities to federal agencies who often did not use it before, because it was “too difficult to obtain”. If someone needed geospatial data to make a decision but first had to fill out lots of paperwork and justification forms, possibly find a budget, and wait weeks for the delivery, then many questions had become irrelevant by the time the data arrived and decision were made without or with less good data.
- Open LiDAR brings a bigger “return of investment” because the data – whose value is highly inflationary – gets used immediately for all purposes and not only when the anticipated potential of exploiting it sufficiently outweighs the upfront investment in time and money for aquiring it.
- New business cases become worthwhile for which the LiDAR becomes “raw material” used to create new products and provide new services. This creates additional high-tech companies that pay taxes and desirable high-skilled jobs that would otherwise not exist. This can only happen if the resource “LiDAR” is either free or very cheap. It benefits both government and citizens as additional services and products are becoming available.
- Overall: faster, better, cheaper service for all, full exploitation of the available resource, and higher return (even financially) in the long run.
Received a great follow up by Fabrizio Tadina who writes:
I agree, the open access to all the geospatial national data generates within 5 years more indirect revenue for the country than keeping it locked up and inaccessible […] look at the Danish concept and figures:
A compelling case!
Another great follow up by Christopher Crosby who writes:
I think we’ve demonstrated with OpenTopography that when access to lidar is open and easy, the impact of the datasets, and thus the ROI, is large. We see an incredible diversity of users reusing data that were originally collected for academic research purposes.
Another excellent example, similar to Fabrizio’s Danish report above, is the the US National Enhanced Elevation Assessment (NEEA – http://nationalmap.gov/3DEP/neea.html) which illustrates far greater benefit to open national lidar data than the associated costs.
I hope the EA would consider releasing their other airborne datasets, such as CASI and airphotos.
Thank you for the good reference to the National States Geographic Information Council. I think the link may be incorrect and wanted to offer this link on Data Sharing Guidelines.
Click to access NSGIC_Data_Sharing_Guidelines_120211_Final.pdf
What seemed like an answer to suggesting how restricted access to national LiDAR holding can overall be more costly to governments than providing it as open data, Stefan Ziegler was tweeting “10 billion points can’t be wrong” and that the latest LiDAR of Canton of Solothurn is now freely available for download here … (-:
This sounds reminiscent of the national tidal harmonics. In the US the harmonics are freely available. Here, you need to license them from the Admiralty, with various tiers available depending on what you’re planning to do.
OS maps are the same, I believe. The OS has a glorious DB with all the mapping data in it, and generate the various maps we use from that. End users then pay for patches, or license in various ways.
I _belive_ in the socialist republic of America it’s normal for any publicly collected data to be made freely available. Ironic, really.
For full disclosure, I’m an App developer and I’d love to get access to these databases for free.
I tend to agree that if you’re targeting fairly niche use, the licensing costs represent a barrier to doing something. That’s on top of the fact that if they’re open, people will more readily think to use them.
Unfortunately, the Environment Agency doesn’t seem to grasp the whole concept of the Open Data. It doesn’t only apply to the LiDAR. Check http://www.geostore.com/environment-agency/ for some of datasets they sell.
It seems times are changing at the Environment Agency. This tweet here pointed me to recent meeting minutes where strong support for open LiDAR at EA is evident.
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Times are indeed changing soon. Awesome ACORN notice from the Environment Agency:
“From 1 September 2015 all our LIDAR data for England will become Open Data and everyone will be able to use it for free.”
The corresponding blog article continues: “By making the LIDAR data open to all, users will be able to access it free of charge, even for commercial use. We hope that by removing any cost barriers, our data will improve the quality of flood risk modelling used by businesses and local communities and allow for the development of innovative tools and techniques to further benefit the environment.” Woot!!! Woot!!!
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