As I was glancing back through my notes in the margins of my copy of Barry Lynn’s Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and The Economics of Destruction, I stumbled across the beginning of a discussion of common carriage. Good timing given the FCC wrestling with whether to apply common carrier regulations on Internet access.
Which brings us to a set of laws that are closely related to price discrimination: our common carriage laws. These hold that certain businesses–especially those with a real or a de facto license to provide a vital service to the general public–must be kept open to all potential customers on a fair basis. The provider of the service cannot discriminate among users, either by denying service to some and not to others or by charging different people different prices. The ancient Romans applied the concept to inns and ships. The English applied it to cabs, ferries, toll roads, mills, bakeries, surgery, tailoring, and breweries. In the United States, in the nineteenth century, we extended it to steamboats, telegraphy, and eventually railroads.