Enterprise that provides certain classes of services to the public, including common-carrier transportation (buses, airlines, railroads); telephone and telegraph services; power, heat and light; and community facilities for water and sanitation. In most countries such enterprises are state-owned and state-operated; in the U.S. they are mainly privately owned, but they operate under close regulation. Given the technology of production and distribution, they are considered natural monopolies, since the capital costs for such enterprises are large and the existence of competing or parallel systems would be inordinately expensive and wasteful. Government regulation in the U.S., particularly at the state level, aims to ensure safe operation, reasonable rates, and service on equal terms to all customers. Some states have experimented with deregulation of electricity and natural-gas operations to stimulate price reductions and improved service through competition, but the results have not been universally promising.
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U.S. government agency (1933–39). It was established as part of the New Deal to reduce unemployment through the construction of highways and public buildings. Authorized by the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933) and administered by Harold Ickes, it spent about $4 billion to build schools, courthouses, city halls, public-health facilities, and roads, bridges, dams, and subways. It was gradually dismantled as the country moved to a military-industrial economy during World War II.
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