Wednesday, January 30, 2008

BPN 993 Map manufacturers angry with Dutch government

The manufacturers of digital maps are unhappy with the Dutch government. The state secretary for traffic has announced that the government traffic board will release the national digital road database for commercial use. The digital map manufacturers consider this as unfair competition.

Flakplan Andes, Navteq (to be acquired by telecom manufacturer Nokia) and TeleAtlas (to be acquired by the navigation systems manufacturer TomTom), object to this procedure as they have collected their data for the databases at their own risk, while the government is just to hand out for free. The companies threaten even with legal procedures, as they fear damages and revenue losses. The manufacturers fear that other companies can start more easily, at less cost and in a shorter time.

All roads with a name and a number are stored and maintained in a national road database. This database has been available since 1998 and has so far been working with exclusive contracts. According to an EU directive of 2003 exclusive contracts on governmental content should be forbidden by January 1, 2009. However the whole affair around the map database has been an issue since 2000. Now the question has been posed whether civil servants should keep up a national map database or commercial digital map manufacturers. Offering the same basic information to anyone is an argument to have it maintained by the government. The state secretary has requested the opinion of an expert on governmental content to research the potential damage and costs to the digital map industry.

The Netherlands have a long history of digital maps. Philips automotive was already busy in the late seventies to look at navigation systems seriously. It developed a system by the name of Carin (Car Information and Navigation System), a system which used satellite positioning and stored the maps on optical media. The system was sold to VDO-Siemens before navigation systems took off. TeleAtlas was in fact started in 1986 in the Netherlands. By 1988 there was an experiment in Rotterdam whereby streets were filmed by travelling cars; the movies were digitalised and the maps were embellished with movies; it was a technical experiment using new media like ISDN (new at that time!) and CD-ROMs. The Rotterdam firm AND started to specialise in digital map manufacturing, calculating times for trips and transfers. As the map industry grew global, the companies had trouble to become profitable. In the meantime there is already an Open Street Map project in The Netherlands, in which users can refine the maps. The project uses digital maps, which were a gift by AND.

The issue of digital map information at technical costs for everyone is interesting question in as far as government content is concerned. Should government be a content producer in the first place or have commercial industries do the work by contract. Another question is of course the copyright: who is the copyright owner, when the content has been composed and maintained by government and paid for by tax payers. In the Netherlands we have a famous case of our national law database. Kluwer Legal in the Netherlands had started early in the race to record all the laws systematically, finding mistakes, duplications and omissions. When internet was on the rise in the late nineties, the government wanted to offer the law database to the citizens. But the content was in the database of Kluwer Legal. So a long, extended process of negotiations was started. In the end the Dutch State had to pay to have its own laws back in a database, which is available to citizens now.

Blog Posting Number 993

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