One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward?

Yesterday, September 28, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began providing Internet access to the EDGAR database:

Lobbyists for the Information Industry Association (IIA) have actively opposed this project and are working actively to have it killed. If you have opinions on the issue, it is crucial that you make your views known by writing to Chairman Levitt of the SEC in care of:

EDGAR on the Internet began two years ago as a trial project with New York University and the non-profit Internet Multicasting Service. Over 3 million documents were distributed and the current rate of access is over 17,000 documents per day. The Internet database makes key financial information available to people who did not have it before: students, public interest groups, senior citizen investment clubs, and many others.

Lobbyists contend that free access to simple keyword searches and unprocessed bulk databases threatens the retail information industry. We believe that the opposite is true: free access to raw data expands the market of potential users. Evidence of this is that Moody's, RR Donnelley, and Disclosure all signed contracts offering to help the Internet Multicasting Service.

There is still a crucial role for the Information Industries. They provide value added in the form of real-time access, extensive historical databases, consulting, re-formatted documents, and extracts of key portions of documents. However, putting raw data on the Internet 24 hours after publication is *not* value added and the companies that will thrive in the information age do not view this as a threat.

This issue is a key test of the Contract With America. The Paperwork Reduction Act, which takes effect on October 1, was a key part of the Contract and stated that government data should not be made available at inflated prices to a few special interests. The SEC EDGAR project carries out the provisions of that law that state that data *must* be available through a "diversity of public and private sources" and the public must get access to key government databases in a "timely and equitable manner."

There are two purposes of the Securities and Exchange Commission: enforcement and disclosure. Disclosure means that the investing public has the information they need so that the capital flows to the best firms in the market. The EDGAR database is not a product to be auctioned off to the highest bidder: it is fuel for the information economy.

If you feel strongly for or against this project, you should let your views be known now.

Carl Malamud
Internet Multicasting Service