I cringed when I read about the 'National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005.' I cringed some more when I started getting into the text of the measure for, like many draft bills, its language is far too broad, far too vague, and far too potentially damaging to a valuable public service that has existed for many decades longer than the Internet itself.
The NWS web site, run by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, provides a wealth of weather, hydrological, and climatological data that has, historically, been freely available in many forms to anyone who wants to go through it. Public forecasts, satellite images, radar maps, aviation forecasts... you name it. If it has to do with weather or climate, it'll be there, at no cost whatsoever to the end user.
Senator Santorum, for reasons probably best attributed to his campaign contributors, apparently wants to end all that in favor of creating what looks to me like a government-sponsored monopoly for companies like Accuweather and The Weather Channel (both of whom are, no surprise, in favor of the legislation).
If the bill is implemented in its current state, it would, in essence, prohibit NWS from providing any forecast, data, or other service that could not be provided by a private-sector source. Public forecasts would disappear, as would much of the other data NWS currently provides.
Here are some choice quotes from the bill's text.
"(b) COMPETITION WITH PRIVATE SECTOR- The Secretary of Commerce shall not provide, or assist other entities in providing, a product or service (other than a product or service described in subsection (a)(1)) that is or could be provided by the private sector unless--
(1) the Secretary determines that the private sector is unwilling or unable to provide such product or service; or
(2) the United States Government is obligated to provide such product or service under international aviation agreements to provide meteorological services and exchange meteorological information...
As can be seen, aviation forecasts and data would be exempt. However, it gets better (not!) Check out this next bit...
"(c) ISSUANCE OF DATA, FORECASTS, AND WARNINGS-
(1) IN GENERAL- All data, information, guidance, forecasts, and warnings received, collected, created, or prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Weather Service shall, to the maximum extent practicable, be issued in real time, and without delay for internal use, in a manner that ensures that all members of the public have the opportunity for simultaneous and equal access to such data, information, guidance, forecasts, and warnings.
(2) MODE OF ISSUANCE- Data, information, guidance, forecasts, and warnings shall be issued under paragraph (1) through a set of data portals designed for volume access by commercial providers of products or services and by such other mechanisms as the Secretary of Commerce considers appropriate for purposes of that paragraph...
Am I reading this correctly? It seems to contradict itself. First, it says "in a manner that ensures that all members of the public have the opportunity for simultaneous and equal access to such data," then it turns around and says "through a set of data portals designed for volume access by commercial providers of products or services and by such other mechanisms as the Secretary of Commerce considers appropriate..."
In short, they seem to be saying that the NWS will only make forecasts available to commercial sources. WTF?!
The Coup de Gracie can be found in this lovely paragraph.
"(d) PROHIBITION ON CERTAIN DISCLOSURES- An officer, employee, or agent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, or any other department or agency of the United States who by reason of that status comes into possession of any weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning that might influence or affect the market value of any product, service, commodity, tradable, or business may not--
(1) willfully impart, whether directly or indirectly, such weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning, or any part thereof, before the issuance of such weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning to the public under subsection (c); or
(2) after the issuance of such weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning to the public under subsection (c), willfully impart comments or qualifications on such weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning, or any part thereof, to the public, except pursuant to an issuance that complies with that subsection..."
Once again... WTF?! This looks to me like they're trying to literally censor the weather forecasters themselves, and anyone else who happens to be in posession of weather data which might "market value."
The NWS, much to my surprise, has taken "no position" (their words) on this legislation. No clue as to why.
I don't know about the rest of you, but this bill looks like major Bad News to me. A portion of my tax dollars, and those of every other U.S. citizen, already go to fund the NWS. I don't see why any of us should have to pay twice for (probably) lower-quality information that's been liberally salted with ads (which is what we'll get if this bill goes through).
God only knows what effect this'll have on services like NOAA's Weather Radio stations, or the volunteer efforts of the SKYWARN folks.
I've already expressed my displeasure to our state's senators. I would ask that everyone else who sees this as the major problem it is to do the same. Quickly, please, before we end up with YABL (Yet Another Bad Law).
Thanks for reading.