[Talk-GB] Free National Grid Vector Layers for gas and electricity?

Donald Allwright donald_allwright at yahoo.com
Mon Mar 16 15:55:09 GMT 2009

>It was OS derived...

Unfortunate, but not at all surprising. It seems that in the UK the Ordinance Survey have got the market for *commercial* mapping data pretty much sewn up at the moment. This has made me start to wonder what it would take to break this monopoly, and get organisations to use other sources of data instead (including, but not necessarily limited to OpenStreetMap.org). Just a brain dump of my thoughts here:

1). Organisations won't use OpenStreetMap unless the quality is, and is perceived to be, sufficiently good for their purposes. We've not got blanket coverage of the whole UK to this high standard yet, but I would say that the quality in some parts of the country is more than sufficient for producing custom walking/cycling maps, maps of parks and public spaces, tourist maps, maps of transport systems, routing for a variety of modes of transport, for extracting statistical data (e.g. what is the total length of B roads in Cambridgeshire?) and for educational/planetary applications (I'm thinking of Marble here).

2).There are some applications where OSM doesn't (and probably never will, with current technology) have sufficient accuracy. I'm thinking of urban planning where you need to decide where to dig a trench to install a drain/optical fibre etc.. Actually, this is a bit more insidious than it at first seems. Anyone digging up the roads will need to know where existing infrastructure is buried, so as not to disturb it. The only way they can find out where things are is to look on the highly accurate maps that were used to bury them in the first place. And yes, these were all derived from OS data so we can *never* have this info in OSM with sufficient accuracy (unless OS are forced to allow these data to be used elsewhere).

3). The OS have as much of a
monopoly on the UK mapping market as Microsoft had in PC operating systems
during the 1990s and early 2000s. Various bodies including the European Union have
taken an interest in this, and come to the conclusion that they abused
their monopoly position illegally. I'm not suggesting OSM should make
similar accusations against OS, but I wonder what measures the OS have taken to
protect their market that have not yet come to light. Should they be considered a monopoly and given extra scrutiny as a result? (Essentially a state-sponsored one too). It would seem
that being used as a basis for just about everything means that no-one
else can ever use those data without paying the OS a fee. Must be a nice
little earner for them. Of course OpenStreetMap imposes similar
restrictions, except that paying a fee is replaced with the far less onerous requirement
for derived works to be CC-BY-SA licensed. (Ignoring the issues to do
with why we need to change the licence for now).

4) . I'm struck by the contrast with data that come from publically-funded organisations in the USA, which are legally *required* to be public domain. This just opens up so many more possibilities than are possible when the data are kept under lock and key.
5). Having said all this, people generally consider the quality of OS data to be second to none around the world - you just can't get detailed maps that show every field boundary and almost every rock in most parts of the world. I wonder why this is - a very long history of collecting mapping data, or is it that the income they get from licensing is invested in collecting the data? It would be very nice to look back in 10 years' time and say "Yes, there is another way of getting data of this quality, it can be crowd-sourced". What do we need in order for this to happen?

Sorry for the long rambling nature of this post!


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