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Government Earth Space The Almighty Buck United States Science

US Government Wants To Start Charging For Landsat, the Best Free Satellite Data On Earth (qz.com) 239

The U.S. government may begin charging users for access to five decades of satellite images of Earth. Quartz reports: Nature reports that the Department of Interior has asked an advisory board to consider the consequences of charging for the data generated by the Landsat program, which is the largest continuously collected set of Earth images taken in space and has been freely available to the public since 2008. Since 1972, Landsat has used eight different satellites to gather images of the Earth, with a ninth currently slated for a December 2020 launch. The data are widely used by government agencies, and since it became free, by an increasing number of academics, private companies and journalists. "As of March 31, 2018, more than 75 million Landsat scenes have been downloaded from the USGS-managed archive!" the agency noted on the 10th anniversary of the program.

Now, the government says the cost of sharing the data has grown as more people access it. Advocates for open data say the public benefit produced through research and business activity far outweigh those costs. A 2013 survey cited by Nature found that the dataset generated $2 billion in economic activity, compared to an $80 million budget for the program.

US Government Wants To Start Charging For Landsat, the Best Free Satellite Data On Earth

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2018 @06:13AM (#56631714)

    Trump is just looking for more ways to convert more government programs into being profit BUs instead of public services.

    We already paid for the hardware and time with our taxes.. If they really need to, they can allow services to mirror the data.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrbester ( 200927 )

      > Now, the government says the cost of sharing the data has grown as more people access it

      I'll bet it is running on some pay-through-the-nose hosting and they can't be bothered to even do a cost analysis of hosting it somewhere cheaper.

    • by judoguy ( 534886 )

      Trump is just looking for more ways to convert more government programs into being profit BUs instead of public services.

      We already paid for the hardware and time with our taxes.. If they really need to, they can allow services to mirror the data.

      Considering that we have a massive (and growing) national debt, perhaps, just perhaps, charging for this service isn't completely crazy.

      • The budget is $80 million, or about 50 cents per taxpaying American per year.

        That's also a 0.04% tax on the $2 billion of economic activity centered around the thing.

        Essentially, charging for the data is raising taxes (or not raising taxes and breaking even) and targeting those taxes to specific individuals, causing the cost to go up per individual accessing the data.

        The proposal overall makes no sense, and is simply a desocialization effort (from tax funded to use funded) which they can then follow u

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      Trump is just looking for more ways to convert more government programs into being profit BUs

      Not really... generating bulk Landsat products for download is EXPENSIVE. They are archiving thousands of scenes which amounts to DAILY Terabytes worth of stored data being processed to service requests.

      Sure it's a public service to provide access to process a reasonable volume of data for Use by other governmental Entities and for use in the course of Non-Profit, Non-Politicized Scientific Research, AND

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      We already paid for the hardware and time with our taxes..

      Right and I for one would like to see some actual ROI thank you very much. There no reason if the business etc that actually derive economic value from it should not shoulder the burden of supporting it.

      Fee for service government is actually a GREAT model. Government has the capital resources to do things a lot of small business can't like put satellites with high resolution imaging equipment in orbit. On the other hand if you are making money with you mobile app or whatever using the resulting images th

      • Right and I for one would like to see some actual ROI thank you very much.

        You do understand that some ROI isn't a direct cash transaction, right? Much NASA research and data has resulted in huge value to our economy but isn't a transactional ROI. It ends up being an indirect benefit to the economy through business growth and jobs. Harder to calculate but just as real.

        There no reason if the business etc that actually derive economic value from it should not shoulder the burden of supporting it.

        As a general principle I tend to agree. There are some exceptions that make sense but in general for profit companies should bear some of the cost and risk.

        Fee for service government is actually a GREAT model.

        Depends on how it is implemented. Some things absolutel

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      If they really need to, they can allow services to mirror the data.

      The project's been going for 46 years. My understanding is the raw data is in the ballpark about 400 Terabytes per year.

      So cool... you want to mirror it? "We'll shoot you the download link"
      It's only gonna be about 18,400 TB.

      Let's say you have a dedicated 100-Gigabit private Internet link to their datacenter that never goes down and always gives perfect performance, and their servers always give you total priority --- you can start t

      • 17 years you say?

        Most of the time there have been 2 Landsat satellites active, so you are claiming that those satellites have almost 20-gigabit downlinks to earth. Yeah, not a chance.

        Maybe check for reasonableness before making your arguments? Since those numbers don't pass the smell test.

        I think you mean 17 days since 18400 * 1000 * 8 / 100 / 60 / 60 / 24 happens to be about 17.

        • Oh and I should mention those 20-gigabit satellite downlinks are running 24x7x365. Those satellites manage to always have a perfect connection to the ground stations - they're never on the wrong side of the planet or something.

    • Trump is just looking for more ways to convert more government programs into being profit BUs instead of public services.

      We already paid for the hardware and time with our taxes.. If they really need to, they can allow services to mirror the data.

      Pretty much this, but it is hardly limited to his administration.

      Congress borrows at rates proportional to GDP and finds that an A-Ok chronic condition. Any revenue increase thus doesn't reduce borrowing in the long run, as the goal is to spend 100% revenue + up to 25% more via borrowing, to secure votes.

    • this is about keeping the data out of people's hands. They'll raise the price to prohibitive levels. The goal is to squash scientific research into climate change so their rich donors don't have to pay to address the problem.
      • this is about keeping the data out of people's hands. They'll raise the price to prohibitive levels. The goal is to squash scientific research into climate change so their rich donors don't have to pay to address the problem.

        I think you are incorrect on this. My guess is that they want to know who's looking at what and making folks pay for the data gives them insight into that.

        It also makes it unprofitable to spin up any competition services by keeping prices low.. Keeping you squarely in control of this kind of data and when they get it. So, should an armed conflict threaten to break out, they can deny access to the "bad" people, regardless of what they can pay.

        Then there is the whole, make some cash to support the systems

    • I know the whole point of most posts on the interwebs in 2018 is to signal how much we all hate Trump, but I'm not sure I'm entirely against the US gov't trying to at least recoup costs for services offered?

      We do all recognize that things cost money, right? Even government things.

      Yes, our tax $ paid for this, so for citizens and private use? Should be free. But corporate, commercial, or non-American use? Sure, there should be a cost-compensatory charge.

  • Dodgy survey (Score:4, Interesting)

    by volodymyrbiryuk ( 4780959 ) on Friday May 18, 2018 @06:14AM (#56631716)
    But will they also return the tax money that was used to operate the satellites that took the pictures?
    • But will they also return the tax money that was used to operate the satellites that took the pictures?

      What tax money?

      In the socialist liberal mind that money just what the government didn't let you keep. It all belongs to the government anyway.

  • public domain (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2018 @06:14AM (#56631718)

    because this is work generated by the federal government. so it only takes ONE 'purchase' and then it's 'out there'... it will only encourage those that use the images to use advertisements or subscriptions to 'cover costs' (and then some) even more.. generating more money and more profits for them, not you. don't expect to make that 2 billion dollars, bub. it won't happen.

    • That's great! That way you can pay for all the server hosting and the software to allow people to search the images!
  • Not Eight... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dausha ( 546002 ) on Friday May 18, 2018 @06:21AM (#56631738) Homepage

    There have only been seven Landsats. Landsats six died on the pad. Landsat 9 is being prepared for launch.

  • seed it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "cost of sharing the data has grown as more people access it"

    Cost of sharing proportional to user count? Bittorrent is just eliminating this exact problem. If only two users are interested, you can serve them at low cost. If there are a few hundred thousands, they will serve each others.

    • by thejam ( 655457 )
      And how about getting some kind of return on the taxpayers' investment in the Landsats?
      • Because it would likely cost more to administrate the program that would charge for access. This is about 0.0000001% of Federal expenditures. Who really cares?
        • by thejam ( 655457 )

          Because it would likely cost more to administrate the program that would charge for access. This is about 0.0000001% of Federal expenditures. Who really cares?

          You might be right, and in that case, it would be impractical to charge for access. But that practical concern is not a disagreement in principle. It's conceivable that someone could make a business for cheaply charging for access to popular services, reducing taxes overall. Of course, there's always the possibility of cronyism even in that, which I would join you in despising. That suggests the need for transparency, not armchair recommendations of access policy.

  • by skovnymfe ( 1671822 ) on Friday May 18, 2018 @06:45AM (#56631828)

    Logic dictates that as one of the last remaining successful government run space programs, it must now be castrated, cannibalized and killed so that we can feed off of its rotting flesh. If all that money can be siphoned off instead of re-invested, just imagine what can be accomplished. More parking lots! More malls! More stadiums!

    Politicians really are retarded.

    • Yes, one of the last. Along with the Hubble Space Telescope, a bunch of Mars probes and 2 remaining rovers, the Juno probe, the TESS exoplanet mission, the New Horizons probe to Pluto and beyond, the Dawn Mission to the asteroid belt...
  • Why not charge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bobstreo ( 1320787 ) on Friday May 18, 2018 @07:00AM (#56631872)

    for non-academic use?

    Companies that make money from this service should probably be paying something.

    And if enough people get peeved about having to pay, I'm sure some private companies would be happy to launch some private satellites.

    • Companies that make money from this service should probably be paying something.

      They are paying something. They are paying in the form of jobs and GDP. That's kind of how the relationship between enterprises and governments work. They provide jobs, jobs provide taxation revenue, revenue provides infrastructure, good infrastructure attacks more companies which provides jobs, etc etc.

  • by dbrueck ( 1872018 ) on Friday May 18, 2018 @07:28AM (#56631942)

    There are basically two costs: the cost to acquire the data and the cost to give the data to you and everyone else. Yes, tax dollars were used for the first one. That money is spent and gone, and the data has been acquired.

    But hosting the files, maintaining backups, and paying for the bandwidth to deliver the data is an ongoing cost and, as the TFA pointed out, one that grows as more people access the data. How do you deal with that cost? Solutions could include: destroying the data, using even more of your tax dollars, or having the people who cause that ongoing cost to pay for it.

    There's nothing nefarious about contemplating the latter option.

    • No other options? Ever hear of say, torrents? There's technological ways to share data that actually can turn many people needing the data into a good thing that doesn't cost them money. I'm sure there's a technological solution where users don't pay for the data... but the majority of users viewing the data send it to other users. Games have been using systems like that for patches for some time.
      • Who said there were no other options? I sure didn't. Yes, I've heard of torrents. I also wouldn't be surprised if the government could find cheaper hosting options.

        My post was in response to many who are saying they are having to pay for things twice, which is false. The present way the data is being circulated generates ongoing and growing costs. That's not to say some other methods could be used.

        But the present course has real costs associated with it, and somebody has to pay those costs, and it doesn't s

    • Well, speaking for myself, given it's useful data that should be in the public domain, I'm in favor of continuing to pay for it. But I loved the way you worded that option as "using even more of your tax dollars" as if my taxes will suddenly be hiked to pay for it.

      That said, I'm also in favor of paying more taxes to get better services, like basic healthcare for everyone. So even if it did mean a tax hike, that wouldn't mean I'm opposed to it.

      • Well, speaking for myself, given it's useful data that should be in the public domain, I'm in favor of continuing to pay for it.

        Me too! I'm also in favor of exposing the data as torrents as a way to reduce their direct costs, as well as various other ideas.

        But I loved the way you worded that option as "using even more of your tax dollars" as if my taxes will suddenly be hiked to pay for it.

        Not at all, it's just that another option is that they are also asking for more budget - i.e. even more of your tax dollars. That doesn't necessarily translate into an immediate tax hike of course, but using even more of your tax dollars is in fact one of the solutions they're looking at.

        That said, I'm also in favor of paying more taxes to get better services, like basic healthcare for everyone. So even if it did mean a tax hike, that wouldn't mean I'm opposed to it.

        Agreed!

        And while some taxes are broad hikes collected for myriad purposes, others are narrowly

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Friday May 18, 2018 @08:45AM (#56632214) Journal

    ...but as a US citizen my taxes paid for the agency, the hardware, and is paying for the maintenance. It should be free to me, for sure.*

    *well, let's be honest, about 1/3 of it was paid by borrowing because as a country we have a ridiculous obsession with overspending, but that's another conversation.

  • by Artagel ( 114272 ) on Friday May 18, 2018 @09:52AM (#56632620) Homepage

    It is not unusual for the U.S. government to try to maintain cost control on its data that is popular and therefore relatively expensive to provide. Sometimes, it seeks to have private partners take on distributing the data. At some point the Patent Office (an entirely user-fee operated organization, not taxes) worked with private companies to provide copies of patents to interested people in addition to the for-free U.S. Patent Office patent copies service. When the USPTO went online, it had to limit expense by providing a painful portal (download 1 page at a time). For-fee companies that the Patent Office shared data with would provide better electronic service at a price.

    Had the Patent Office fully charged each patent applicant for its patent in the past? Yes. But it needs money to keep handing out the patents. It has to come from somewhere. Other pieces of the government face the same problem.

    Why shouldn't the researchers bear the cost of accessing the data? To some extent it is the U.S. government moving money from one pocket (research grants) to the other (Landsat image fees). I think the out of pocket costs for the public would be minimal for the benefits obtained, so why not defray some of the costs from the users?

  • comes up every Republican administration, because after running against deficits they cut taxes and raise defense spending. Trying to use NOAA or NASA's environmental monitoring data as a piggy bank is the budgetary equivalent of rooting through your sofa cushions for rent money.

  • Taxpayer money was used to build those satellites and gather that data. It ALREADY belongs to us.

    Taxpayer money also pays for the servers required to host and distribute that data on the internet, too.

    We citizens have already paid, but leave it to team trump to think they can charge twice.

    I'm cool with them charging foreign entities and companies that don't pay their fair share of taxes, but I'm not cool with having to pay for that data as a private citizen. (Yes, I actually have used data from Landsat befo

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