Live Free or Die (Whichever is Cost-Effective)

In a precedent-setting move, New Hampshire has enacted HB 418-FN, a bill that directs administrative agencies in the state to consider open source on a level economic playing field with proprietary software, and to favor open standards.  State agencies are required to “Consider whether proprietary or open source software offers the most cost effective software solution for the agency, based on consideration of all associated acquisition, support, maintenance, and training costs” and to “Avoid the acquisition of products that do not comply with open standards for interoperability or data storage.”  
The bill contains a definition of open source software that is not dissimilar to, but not quite the same as, the Open Source Definition and the Free Software Definition: (a) Unrestricted use of the software for any purpose; (b) Unrestricted access to the respective source code; (c) Exhaustive inspection of the working mechanisms of the software; (d) Use of the internal mechanisms and arbitrary portions of the software, to adapt them to the needs of the user; (e) Freedom to make and distribute copies of the software; and (f) Modification of the software and freedom to distribute modifications of the new resulting software, under the same license as the original software.


Perhaps more interesting is the definition of an “open standard,” a standard that:

(a) Is free for all to implement and use in perpetuity, with no royalty or fee;

(b) Has no restrictions on the use of data stored in the format;

(c) Has no restrictions on the creation of software that stores, transmits, receives, or accesses data codified in such way;

(d) Has a specification available for all to read, in a human-readable format, written in commonly accepted technical language;

(e) Is documented, so that anyone can write software that can read and interpret the complete semantics of any data file stored in the data format;

(f) If it allows extensions, ensures that all extensions of the data format used by the state are themselves documented and have the other characteristics of an open data format;

(g) Allows any file written in that format to be identified as adhering or not adhering to the format; and

(h) If it includes any use of encryption or other means of data obfuscation, provides that the encryption or obfuscation algorithms are usable in a royalty-free, nondiscriminatory manner in perpetuity, and are documented so that anyone in possession of the appropriate encryption key or keys or other data necessary to recover the original data is able to write software to access the data.

Open standards definitions are elusive — you’ve got to admire the Granite State for trying.
The bill further mandates “principles of open government data” aimed at transparency and free availability of data.
On a personal note, I am always pleasantly surprised when anyone in government appears to be thinking about what is cost effective.
PS Thanks to Mark Radcliffe for the scoop on this.



Author: heatherjmeeker

Technology licensing lawyer, drummer, dancer

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