Should government charge API fees?

There’s a new topic posted on the US Government APIs Google group inquiring about instances of government agencies using pay models for government APIs.

My default answer to this is no, that we should treat it much like we do other public goods. Just like any venture, government agencies need to reconfigure their budgets and IT operations to provide a public API offering.

In this day and age, government needs to take into account that data and APIs are a twenty-first century public offering. If agencies are trying to justify data/APIs from a budgetary perspective, the first step would be to reallocate funding priorities and eliminate antiquated services these offerings replace.

Pay for the data, streamline IT processes that make it easier and cheaper to publish data, eliminate outdated operations they replace and empower third-parties to leverage that data and provide more market-based public services. If we’re going to start charging for data/APIs, we need to first do a holistic assessment of what the ecosystem looks like if we’re going to innovate our thinking around it, as opposed to looking at it from a micro perspective.

I can see in high-usage cases where there may be some merit to charging for data usage, but we’re still a long ways away from that discussion. Let’s innovate first before jumping into pay-for-use fees.

Would love to hear other opinions on this. Share your thoughts.

Luke Fretwell is the founder of the civic innovation and technology blog GovFresh. He advises civic leaders and businesses on how to best leverage digital strategies to create more effective, collaborative governments. He has written about government IT for Federal Computer Week, NextGov, FedScoop, StateScoop and FierceGovernment, and has been referenced by the Washington Post and Fast Company on civic technology issues. He has worked with a number of government-focused companies and media, including CivicActions, NuCivic and FedScoop and has been involved in broad-focused community efforts, such as GovPress, CityCamp, CivicMeet, Agile Government Leadership and Open Source for America. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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