Business & Finance
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7/15/2005
08:35 PM
Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl
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Editor's Note: Agency Lands In Eye Of The Storm

As hurricanes swirl in the Caribbean and make their way toward the United States, weather tracking and forecasting become more critical than ever, especially for those in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Technology continues to improve forecasting for hurricanes and other dangerous weather, making it possible for people and businesses to set contingency plans in motion.

But this week we're writing about stormy weather of a different kind--something that has created a lively debate over how taxpayer-funded data is distributed and that could impact some companies' business models in ways that make some folks quite angry. At the heart of the issue is a decision late last year that made it possible for the National Weather Service, the government agency that's the primary collector of weather data, to make its information more readily available to individuals or organizations. Commercial weather-information providers are peeved, arguing that the agency is duplicating products and services already available to the public through organizations like the Weather Channel.

Smaller weather companies are crying foul because they claim the legislation, in spelling out how the Weather Service makes its data available to large commercial providers (the Weather Channel, AccuWeather), might force the small guys to pay the larger guys for data. Weather Service employees aren't happy with the legislation either, arguing that it would prohibit the agency from providing services to the public if private companies can provide them for a fee.

Who knew weather data could be so competitive and political? Should government steer away from competing with the private sector? Should the data be available for free to anyone who wants it? Should the private sector profit from publicly available data? Perhaps Raymond Ban, executive VP at the Weather Channel, said it best: "As the private sector has continued to grow and evolve, all of a sudden the boundaries that seemed to be very comfortable and very well-suited 50 years ago aren't working anymore."

Seems there's an industry transformation in the forecast.

Stephanie Stahl,
Editor-in-chief sstahl@cmp.com


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