Monday, July 30, 2012

Where Are the AccuWeather Satellites?

            In my home town of State College, Pennsylvania a major private weather venture operates.  The company, AccuWeather,  takes raw data freely supplied by the National Weather Service and reformulates it for profit.  Newspapers including the Wall Street Journal pay for the value added graphics and packaging performed by the company.

            Passing by AccuWeather’s offices you can see dozens of satellite dishes pointed upward to space.  Yet the company does not own and operate a single satellite.  The federal government bore the complete cost of this vital infrastructure investment.  AccuWeather points its earth stations to these government satellites, collects the data and repackages it.  Such a deal.  

            In this day, I’m sure plenty of people would consider government involvement in weather forecasting unnecessary, job killing and a threat to private enterprise.  But do they really think a company like AccuWeather, or a consortium of ventures, would invest the billions in the construction, launch, insurance, tracking and management of the weather satellites?  

            I endorse the superior outcomes available from private enterprise and entrepreneurship.  But let us not dismiss the role of government as technology incubator, anchor tenant of new services and investor of last resort in essential infrastructure.  Yes it’s quite likely the Internet could have been invented free of any government stewardship and early investment.  Private enterprises and society benefitted by the Internet’s early arrival thanks to taxpayers.       

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