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THE WORK OF PUBLIC SERVICE

COMMISSIONS

I. GENERAL HISTORICAL SKETCH1

1. INCREASE OF UTILITIES AND OF OUR DEPENDENCE

ON THEM

Accompanying the remarkable growth of cities in the nineteenth century, there has been a notable change in their character. In comforts and conveniences the city of Shakespeare's day was almost on a par with that of the days of Washington. When Jefferson became president, some cities had crude sewer and water systems, indeed, and probably a few of Benjamin Franklin's street-lamps, but what a contrast do these few conveniences make with those possessed by an American city when McKinley began his second term. Street railways, gas, electricity, central heating plants, telephones, and telegraphs, and, besides, better water and sewer systems than men of 1800 could have dreamed of, are to be found in most nodern cities. Upon these services the citizens have become dependent as never before. A breakdown of the electric-light plant, or a tie-up of the street-car service, is instantly felt by the city, and results in general and serious inconvenience. Together with the railroads and some other businesses, the industries enumerated above have become "clothed with a public interest", and are to-day of vital and widespread concern. Sooner or later in the history of these industries the public was certain to demand a voice in the control of them. 2. METHODS OF CONTROL Before beginning to review the history of the movement for the regulation of public utilities, it will be well to classify the possible methods of control.2

1This sketch is limited in two ways; first, as it concerns the regulation of munici. pal utilities, it covers only the period of such modern public utilities as gas, electricity, and street railways; and, second, the history of the rise of regulatory commissions is confined to the movement in New York and near-by states, and does not cover the Granger movement in the Middle West.

I. Control by economic forces--competition II. Control by governmental action A. Under private ownership 1. Control by legislature a. Local legislatures

(1) Through control of franchises

(2) By ordinances
b. State legislatures

(1) Through control of franchises
(2) By laws reducing price, etc.

(3) By such special methods as the sliding scale
2. Control by administrative commissions
a. Commissions with power to investigate and advise

only
(1) Local commission

(2) State commission
b. Commissions with power to enforce their orders

(1) Local commission!

(2) State commission B. By public ownership

In the carly days of the modern public service corporations, the public did not insist very strongly upon controlling them. The prevalent laissez-faire doctrine, and the need of rapid development prevented the immediate rise of a desire for regulation. Moreover, gas of low candle-power at ten dollars per thousand feet had no great advantage over candles or oil, and competition between these luminants lasted for some time. The

2This is, of course, rather an outline than a complete classification. For another such see E. N. Wrightington in the Proceedings of the National Municipal League (1910), p. 103.

3Often called “strong" commissions, as contrasted with advisory or “weak” commissions.

*It will be noted that there is here a cross-classification as between a and b.

Such competition still exists, of course. See T. N. l'ail, “Public ('tilities and Public Policy," Atlantic (March, 1913), vol. u1, p. 307.

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