On 14 June 2013 the Royal Mail announced a package of measures to improve access to its Postcode Address File (PAF) data, including a consultation to “simplify radically the licensing and pricing regime”. This consultation closed last Friday (20th September).
ODUG is today publishing its response to the PAF licensing consultation. In this we conclude that the consultation has somewhat missed the mark. Its focus is too narrow – only considering the existing license for PAF Solutions Providers. The use of PAF data for any sort of commercial digital mapping application is still covered by a long and complex license, not to mention the third license proposed for Public Sector use of PAF, which the government will be expected to fund separately.
Therefore the consultation does little to simplify the current PAF licensing regime, or to help the Royal Mail drive the wider use of its PAF data in the fast-growing digital economy.
It would be entirely in the Royal Mail’s business interests for the PAF to be the defacto gold-standard for UK postcode data, trusted as such and used as widely as possible and we believe that the Royal Mail is opening up its delivery business up to a significant long term risk by not setting this long-term objective and finding a method of delivering it.
The digital economy will not use Royal Mail postcode data unless it is extremely simple, efficient and cost-effective to do so. If this is not the case other sources of postcode data will be chosen. Initially the plethora of concurrent postcode files in use across the UK will be maintained. Eventually, because of the size of the market ($170bn annually, growing at >10% per annum) and in line with other markets which have become open over the years, another postcode file will emerge as the defacto open standard for the digital economy.
We have previously discussed this with the Royal Mail - emphasising that the way to maximise the use of their data would be to open up the PAF as Open Data, either at marginal cost, or for a small flat fee. This could be done overnight, replacing all three PAF licenses with a single side of paper. No license selection or interpretation, no lawyers, no audit requirements on businesses. Clean, efficient and simple – and something all postcode users, businesses, the public sector and citizens, would find acceptable.
Who would choose not to use this gold-standard if it were cheap and easy to do so – a radically simplified licensing and pricing regime - which was the goal of the consultation exercise. We urge the Royal Mail to think their proposals through again.
The independent views in this blog are those of the Open Data User Group (ODUG) and are not an expression of the opinions of the Cabinet Office or the government.