Net Neutrality and Equality in GIS

U.S. weather conditions in December 2017Katrina Schweikert
Mid-December weather conditions shown in NOAA radar and GOES imagery accessed through Global Mapper’s online data service.

If you are a fan of Global Mapper and Blue Marble Geographics you are a fan of affordable technology. Our products are well-known for providing reliable and powerful tools for GIS and geodetics data processing and analysis. You might not consider access to the internet to be an important issue when it comes to accessing or even using our products, but it is essential.

If you think about it, most of our customers use the web to research our products, watch video tutorials, download the software, activate a license, or even simply follow our social media channels to keep up-to-date on the latest news.  Unequivocally, the main way our customers interact with us is online. From emailing us to web-based meetings, from researching our products to purchasing them, from downloading to participating in training, a large part of the customer experience is over the Internet. We benefit from the fact that, along with our customers, we have fair and equal access to consistent internet speed without having to pay a premium price. The availability of fast and reliable internet access is not only essential for our business processes, it is also a critical requirement of much of the GIS technology embedded in our applications.

One of the most popular features of Global Mapper is the online data access tool.  Global Mapper offers streaming access to a vast library of maps and data layers of all types, many with full global coverage. This list is continually being expanded and updated and recently we added online data services from all 50 states in the U.S. and several Canadian provinces. If net neutrality in the U.S. is not protected, access to these datasets will almost definitely suffer from slower bandwidth in the future. Even if Blue Marble could afford to provide fast internet for our consumption of these services, we cannot possibly cover the cost of our customers’ access or that of the hosts of these data services.

Global Mapper Online Data access
The Online Data access in Global Mapper provides streaming access to over 100 built-in sources of imagery and terrain data as well as topographic, geological, and land cover maps.

In the past couple of years, Blue Marble has proudly introduced some new cloud-based software offerings. We now host the GeoCalc coordinate system library on Amazon as a “geodetic registry” service. This past year we added read and write access to Amazon cloud data stores in the Global Mapper desktop. And recently we announced the release of Global Mapper SDK on Amazon as well. We have plans for expanding our cloud-based offerings but what will the future look like for these services under a pay per use bandwidth model?

Certainly companies like Amazon have the ability to negotiate deals with internet service providers, but that will not account for all aspects of the cloud transaction process. There is no way a state or public entity that is hosting spatial data, including Blue Marble’s home state of Maine, can afford to pay for fair and equal bandwidth. There are many, many government-hosted mapping data sources that will suffer under the new model but most important to those fans of Blue Marble is the fact that a small company like ours will most definitely be disproportionately impacted by increased bandwidth costs.

The dominant software company in the GIS industry makes a billion dollars a year in revenue and they will certainly be able to afford increased bandwidth costs, however the GIS sector is full of small companies like Blue Marble. Loyal and dedicated GIS professionals who support the “little guy” and who do not want a GIS software industry that is dominated by just one offering, should be very concerned. And what about users of open source GIS technology? Without any financial clout, developers and users of open source tools will likely see a significant impediment to the use of their technology. This is where a lack of net neutrality will most likely have its biggest impact. Established, well-financed companies will more likely be able to maintain optimal access to their products and services but new players and new technology offerings will not. The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will ensure that their paying customers have good access to Twitter and Facebook as they know that there is a demand for it. But what about innovation? What about new technologies? Those entities are likely to suffer by only being able to afford the “slow lane” in the bandwidth marketplace that will develop.

Finally, it is worth considering what other countries have done about this issue.  Canada, Europe, most of South America, India and Japan have all taken steps to protect net neutrality. The recent ruling by the FCC to eliminate Net Neutrality protections in the U.S. is not only unfair to small business but is out of step with the rest of the world.

So what can we collectively do about this? I appeal to all U.S.-based customers of Blue Marble and all members of the GIS community to take a moment to email your elected representatives and explain to them why they need to work to reverse the decision of the FCC. Even if you are not in the U.S., let your voice be heard. This is not about political affiliation. This is about technology and innovation. The danger is that much of the public does not fully appreciate the widespread impact of this ruling. You do. Your voice must be heard. The message should be clear, reverse the FCC ruling immediately and protect fair and equal access to the Internet. I will be sending this to my representatives, I hope you do too. Thank you for taking action today. And I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season.

Sincerely,

Patrick Cunningham
President  |  Blue Marble Geographics

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