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"'It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free,' Santorum said."
In case you hadn't heard already. Santorum has introduced a bill (with help, no doubt, from PA company, and campaign contributer AccuWeather) that would prohibit the National Weather Service from providing free data over the internet that might compete with commercial providers.
Earlier we had a guy in Dallas who wanted to provide free wireless internet access but was threatened with lawsuits if he did so.
Let's extend that logic. Any free service that the government, business or individual provides that might compete with a commercial enterprise that seeks to sell that same service would be rendered unlawful.
So how long until we have to shut down the public schools? Would we have to disband the police because of private security firms? How about the Fire Department? Would we have to stop building roads if some business decides to get into the pay-road business?
Let's take a look at charities... food pantries, free shelters, free legal advice, tax preparation, credit counseling.. and the list goes on. All deemed a threat to free markets if we subscribe to this zero sum line of reasoning.
But this goes further than that. We already pay for the information on this website. The National Weather Service and and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are federal agencies paid for by our tax money. The information they provide for us over the web is ours. We fund those agencies so that we can get good, accurate information about the weather. This is in our own best interests. If you don't believe me, ask anyone living in one of the Tsunami wrecked countries how important it is to monitor for potential dangers. Even though the bill would not prevent the NWS from warning us about potential severe weather dangers, I think this quote from Ed Johnson, the weather service's director of strategic planning and policy, explains it best:
"If someone claims that our core mission is just warning the public of hazardous conditions, that's really impossible unless we forecast the weather all the time," Johnson said. "You don't just plug in your clock when you want to know what time it is."
And this leads us into a larger debate about the role of government and infrastructure. Personally I feel that without a substantial public investment into a nation's infrastructure, private interprise cannot flourish. Just take a look at the world's healthiest economies and the world's poorest countries and tell me what you see in common. Nations with governments that take a more active role in investing in research, building infrastructure and protecting its citizens from corruption are better off.
To a point.
This has been a special report from Tornado Alley.
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