The U.S. began regulating utilities to protect the public interest and limit monopoly pricing. In the past, utilities were granted exclusive service territories. Regulations required them to charge all consumers fair and reasonable rates. And services had to meet quality and safety standards. In exchange, the government allowed utilities to earn a reasonable profit, as determined by regulators. Since that time, telecommunications and some of the energy markets have now been opened to unregulated or lightly-regulated providers.
The introduction of competition has resulted in less oversight and often more problems for consumers. Competition alone has not been sufficient to produce fair prices and necessary consumer protections. However, even in areas where utilities retain monopoly status, new forms of regulation have also often reduced oversight and consumer protections. No matter the regulatory structure, policymakers can increase accountability and improve consumer outcomes by establishing a robust and independent consumer advocacy office, ensuring transparency in all decision-making processes, and increasing public participation.