Public utility

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A public utility (usually just utility) is an organization that maintains the infrastructure for a public service (often also providing a service using that infrastructure). Public utilities are subject to forms of public control and regulation ranging from local community-based groups to statewide government monopolies.

The term utilities can also refer to the set of services provided by these organizations consumed by the public: electricity, natural gas, water, and sewage. Broadband internet services (both fixed-line and mobile) are increasingly being included within the definition.[1][2][3][4][5]

United States

In the United States, public utilities are often natural monopolies because the infrastructure required to produce and deliver a product such as electricity or water is very expensive to build and maintain.[6] As a result, they are often government monopolies, or if privately owned, the sectors are specially regulated by a public utilities commission.[1][2][3] The first public utility in the United States was a grist mill on Mother Brook in Dedham, Massachusetts.[7]

Developments in technology have eroded some of the natural monopoly aspects of traditional public utilities. For instance, electricity generation, electricity retailing, telecommunication, some types of public transit and postal services have become competitive in some countries and the trend towards liberalization, deregulation and privatization of public utilities is growing, but the network infrastructure used to distribute most utility products and services has remained largely monopolistic.

Public utilities can be privately owned or publicly owned. Publicly owned utilities include cooperative and municipal utilities. Municipal utilities may actually include territories outside of city limits or may not even serve the entire city. Cooperative utilities are owned by the customers they serve. They are usually found in rural areas. Private utilities, also called investor-owned utilities, are owned by investors.[8][9][10]

Public utilities provide services at the consumer level, be it residential, commercial, or industrial consumer. In turn, utilities and very large consumers buy and sell electricity at the wholesale level through a network of RTOs and ISOs within one of three grids, the eastern grid, Texas, which is a single ISO, and the western grid.

Common classifications of utilities

The California Public Utilities Commission

The California Public Utilities Commission (or CPUC) is a public utilities commission that officially regulates the privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies that operate in the state of California.[4]

United Kingdom and Ireland

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the state, private firms, and charities ran the traditional public utilities. For instance, the Sanitary Districts were established in England and Wales in 1875 and in Ireland in 1878.

The term can refer to the set of services provided by various organizations that are used in everyday life by the public, such as: electricity generation, electricity retailing, electricity supplies, natural gas supplies, water supplies, Sewage works, sewage systems and broadband internet services.[11] They are regulated by Ofgem, Ofwat and Ofcom. Disabled community transport services may occasionally be included within the definition. They were mostly privatised in the UK during the 1980s.

Developing countries

In poorer developing countries, public utilities are often limited to wealthier parts of major cities, as used to be the case in developed countries in the nineteenth century, but in some developing countries utilities do provide services to a large share of the urban population, such as in the case of water and sanitation in Latin America. Some places like Afghanistan and Somalia have had their water supply, etc., damaged or destroyed by years of warfare.

Public utility quality of service for telecommunications

Maintaining the infrastructure for a public service or utility demands a set of sound practices to enable Quality of Service (QoS). Uniform construction procedures especially must be followed by all parties. In particular, the recent boom in new architectures/services in telecommunications demands a whole new set of rules to maintain uninterrupted service.

With new construction in public utility areas, the basic considerations and requirements relative to the construction practices and procedures are critical in a telecommunications company operating area.

It is important that any construction should minimize the possibility of creating conditions that

  • are hazardous to the general public and to any personnel working on, in, or around supporting structures
  • could impair service or the restoration of service to customers of all parties using the supporting structures.

A set of practices that promotes reliable network performance and complies with all national codes; and that is consistent with current OSHA Rules, EPA regulations, and DOT requirements; are imperative.

SR-1421, Blue Book - Manual of Construction Procedures provides a basis for developing productive Joint Use agreements and collaboration with other utilities such as power supply companies.

There are many OSHA rules, EPA regulations, DOT requirements, and other agencies that can affect the operations of a telecommunications company that are not directly covered in SR-1421, although cross references where appropriate are present. These auxiliary issues are properly addressed in specific work rules issued by individual companies.

Basic safety precautions in a telecommunications public utility

There are general safety precautions to be observed when working on poles, cables, guys, wire, strand, joint-use and joint-owned structures, pole-mounted aerial equipment, and underground and buried plant.

In the United States, all personnel must conform with the federal, state, and local laws requiring Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to be worn when performing particular work operations. Similar laws and regulations apply in many other countries.

Examples of personal protection equipment are hard hats, safety glasses or goggles, insulating gloves, proper foot wear, work gloves, etc.

Construction, maintenance, and repair work of telecommunications plant involves potentially dangerous situations since the work is often performed

  • In aerial lifts, bucket trucks, buried trenches, and confined spaces
  • In the vicinity of high-voltage and high-current power supply cables and apparatus
  • With heavy equipment and structures including utility poles, excavators, and large cable reels
  • Using significant forces particularly during strand and guy tensioning, cable deployment, cabinet placement and pole setting operations.

It is critical that management and construction personnel be cognizant of these hazards and abide by the appropriate methods and practices to limit as far as reasonably possible the risks associated with telecommunications plant procedures.[citation needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Public utility - Definition". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "public utility definition". Retrieved 2011-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Public Utilities: West's Encyclopedia of American Law". 2009-06-28. Retrieved 2011-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "California Public Utilities Commission". 2007-03-23. Retrieved 2011-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "West's Encyclopedia of American Law". 2009-06-28. Retrieved 2011-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Where Growth Centers". The Salina Evening Journal. Salina, Kansas. November 6, 1922. p. 13. Retrieved March 17, 2015 – via<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> open access publication - free to read
  8. Energy Dictionary
  9. Investor Owned Electric Utilities
  10. Investor-Owned Utilities: Asleep at the Switch or Above the Law?
  11. "Utilities Websites". Retrieved 2011-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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