Proponents of open data, including Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the Open Data Institute, are critical of government plans to leave the Postcode Address File (PAF) under Royal Mail ownership.
The Royal Mail is ‘steward’ of the PAF data, which holds some 28m UK addresses. Access to the PAF is currently via a licensing regime with licence fees starting at £75 per year (although free to the public sector under the Public Sector Licence).
A recent Ofcom consultation
proposed that Royal Mail should continue to charge licensees for usage, although in a simplified licensing structure. This has disappointed many champions of open data, including the Royal Statistical Society, which expressed concern in recent a letter to Ofcom
(opens as pdf) that the data could be put ‘at risk’ unless it was explicitly safeguarded in any new arrangements.
‘Royal Mail privatisation presents an opportunity to maximise the economic advantage of the PAF dataset,’ Professor Shadbolt wrote in a recent blog post
on the ODI website. ‘Ideally this would have happened by taking it out of the hands of Royal Mail and making it open data.’
Shadbolt went on to explain that the PAF is currently ‘a critical missing dataset in the UK’, and that the lack of an open data source was ‘the single biggest complaint from open-data entrepreneurs’.
The licence cost puts the PAF out of reach for many SMEs and data entrepreneurs, according to Shadbolt. ‘Companies need this data to drive business and domestic services, logistics, customer relationships and advertising,’ he argued. ‘In an age of emerging mobile computing and location-based services it is key data for further innovation.’
The ODI has called for Ofcom, who administer licensing for the PAF, to make it available ‘under an open licence and at marginal cost’.
A government spokesperson has responded in a statement
saying it was in discussion with Royal Mail and Ofcom to see how the licensing could ‘better suit the needs of small companies’.