The United States will lose money if it charges for Earth observation data

Bonita Springs, Florida, USA.

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US President Donald Trump’s administration is considering whether to charge for access to Earth-observation data (Nature 556, 417–418; 2018). As former director of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), I urge the US government not to falter in its global leadership in open-data policies or to dismiss the importance of their worldwide benefits, particularly for the United States.

As you point out, this would not be the first time that the United States has charged for Landsat satellite data. Until 2008, it used a cost-of-fulfilling-user-requests model, bringing in about US$4.5 million annually. The largest purchaser of data was the federal government itself, so its net profit was negligible. Meanwhile, external research and innovation withered.

Once replaced by an open-access policy, economic returns followed: in 2011, for example, these were $1.7 billion for the United States and $400 million for other countries, bringing the global total to $2.1 billion. Today, there are more than 400 million international open Earth-observation data and information resources (see

We must remain committed to keeping Earth-observation data — collected at taxpayers’ expense — freely and readily available to inform policy decisions, including those called for in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris climate agreement.

Nature 559, 477 (2018)

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