Government Pushes Freemium Model For Public Data


The Cabinet Office is exploring the possibility of a ‘freemium’ model for re-use of public data

The government seems to be steering towards a “freemium” model for its open data scheme, in a consultation paper that explores questions on key aspects of data policy such as charging, licensing and regulation of public sector information.

The UK Cabinet Office announced plans in January to open access to government data further with the establishment of a Public Data Corporation (PDC) that would gather all available public information under one umbrella.

“Public sector information underpins a growing part of the economy,” said Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude (pictured) at the time. “The technology that is around today allows people to use and re-use this information in new and different ways. The role of government is to help maximise the benefits of these developments.”

However, Maude warned that not all of the data will be provided for free:

“At present many state agencies face a conflict between maximising revenues from the sale of data and making the data freely available to be exploited for social and economic gain,” he said. “Creating the PDC will enable the conflicts at the least to be managed consistently with a view to opening up access and, at best, to be eliminated.”

Mixed charging model

In a consultation paper (pdf) released earlier this month, the Cabinet Office said it was likely that “a mixed charging model will be needed” for public data. It proposed three options:

  • Maintaining the status quo, but with a commitment to make more data available for free;
  • Harmonisation: putting a single price on all chargeable information falling within a particular government organisation’s remit;
  • Freemium: offering a basic service free of charge while charging a premium for advanced features – similar to Skype or LinkedIn.

While the consultation doesn’t explicitly opt for one option over another, much more space is devoted to the freemium proposition, which it says “could provide a way of balancing the objectives set out for a PDC”.

This could be implemented in a number of ways. For example, some low specification or low cost PDC information could be provided for free, while more specialised or higher cost information would be charged for.

Alternatively, PDC data could be limited by volume, so that a certain number of bytes or a certain percentage of data could be downloaded for free, and then charging would begin once a given volume parameter was exceeded. It is also possible that a mixture of options could be applied under a PDC freemium model.

“Under this option a PDC would have the flexibility to supply commercial services with charges set at a commercial rate,” the document stated. “It is likely that in the short term income would decrease, but if the freemium model was successful income might then increase over time. ”

The government is inviting responses to the consultation by 27 October. Organisations can submit their ideas through the Consultation on Data Policy for a Public Data Corporation website, or using this survey form.

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