Common carrier: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A common carrier is a business that transports people, goods, or services and offers its services to the general public under license or authority provided by a regulatory body. The regulatory body has usually been granted “ministerial authority” by the legislation which created it. And it may create, interpret and enforce its regulations upon the common carrier (subject to judicial review) with independence and finality; as long as it acts within the bounds of the enabling legislation. A common carrier holds itself out to provide service to the general public without discrimination (to meet the needs of the regulator's quasi judicial role of impartiality toward the public's interest) for the "public convenience and necessity". A common carrier must further demonstrate to the regulator that it is "fit, willing and able" to provide those services for which it is granted authority. Common carriers typically transport persons or goods according to defined and published routes, time schedules and rate tables upon the approval of regulators. Public airlines, railroads, bus lines, cruise ships, motor carriers (i.e., trucking companies) and other freight companies generally operate as common carriers.

The term common carrier is of Anglo-American origin. In Continental Europe the term is seldom used and has little or no legal implications. Any person who undertakes to transport goods is simply referred to as a carrier.



Although common carriers generally transport people[1] or goods, in the United States the term may also refer to telecommunications providers and public utilities[citation needed]. In certain U.S. states, amusement parks that operate roller coasters and comparable rides have been found to be common carriers; a famous example is Disneyland.[2]

Regulatory bodies may also grant carriers the authority to operate under contract with their customers instead of under common carrier authority, rates, schedules and rules. These regulated carriers, known as contract carriers, must demonstrate that they are "fit, willing and able" to provide service, according to standards enforced by the regulator. However, contract carriers are specifically not required to demonstrate that they will operate for the "public convenience and necessity." A contract carrier may be authorized to provide service over either fixed routes and schedules, i.e., as regular route carrier or on an ad hoc basis as an irregular route carrier.

It should be mentioned that the carrier refers only to the person (legal or physical) that enters into a contract of carriage with the shipper. The carrier does not necessarily have to own or even be in the possession of a means of transport. Unless otherwise agreed upon in the contract, the carrier may use whatever means of transport approved in its operating authority, as long as it is the most favourable from the cargo interests’ point of view. The carriers' duty is to get the goods to the agreed destination within the agreed time or within reasonable time.

The person that is physically transporting the goods on a means of transport is referred to as the "actual carrier". When a carrier subcontracts with another provider, such as an independent contractor or a third-party carrier, the common carrier is said to be providing "substituted service". The same person may hold both common carrier and contract carrier authority. In the case of a rail line in the U.S., the owner of the property is said to retain a "residual common carrier obligation", unless otherwise transferred (such as in the case of a commuter rail system, where the authority operating passenger trains may acquire the property but not this obligation from the former owner), and must operate the line if service is terminated.

In contrast, private carriers are not licensed to offer a service to the public. Private carriers generally provide transport on an irregular or ad hoc basis for their owners.

Carriers were very common in rural areas prior to motorised transport. Regular services by horse drawn vehicles would ply to local towns, taking goods to market or bringing back purchases for the village. If space permitted, passengers could also travel.

R Matthews & Son of Brailes, Warwickshire provided a service to the local towns of Banbury, Stratford upon Avon & Shipston on Stour. When motorised vehicles arrived they changed to be one of the 1st 'omnimus proprietors' in England.


In the telecommunications regulation context in the United States, telecommunications carriers are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission under title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

Computer networks (for example, the Internet) that are built on top of telecommunications networks are Information Services or Enhanced Services,[citation needed] and are generally regulated under title I of the Communications Act (other networks, such as cable video networks or wireless taxi dispatch networks, are neither telecommunications carrier networks nor information services).

Internet Service Providers have argued against being classified as a "common carrier" and, so far, have managed to do so. The argument of ISPs against common carrier classification has largely conflated "telecommunications carriers" with "common carriers," assuming that if they were labeled as "common carriers," they would be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act by the FCC. This is incorrect; as noted above, a firm can be a common carrier without being a telecommunications carrier. The FCC proceeding that established that Internet networks are not telecommunications carriers is the Computer Inquiries. A later FCC report, IN RE FEDERAL-STATE JOINT BOARD ON UNIVERSAL SERVICE, Report to Congress, 13 FCC Rcd. 11501 (1998), reviewed this policy (this report was not an order and did not have the effect of regulatory law - it is however, an excellent capture of FCC policy at that time).

The policy of the FCC has evolved. Traditionally, an Internet network information service would acquire its telecommunications needs from a telecommunications carrier. It was an Internet network layered on top of a telecommunications network. Pursuant to recent FCC decisions, Internet DSL and Internet Cable services are now considered combined as one "information service." There is no telecommunications carrier service underneath for other ISPs to use. This has resulted in a transformation of the ISP market. Previously, thousands of ISPs had access to the telephone network. Now, with no broadband telecommunications carrier service available, there are generally only two Internet broadband providers in a residential market: the cable Internet provider and the DSL Internet provider. Cable ISPs and the DSL ISPs have market power and have both the incentive and opportunity to discriminate with regard to content and applications used over their networks. The AT&T CEO has declared that Google should no longer get a free ride, and should pay AT&T in order to be delivered to AT&T's customers. This is a dramatic departure from 100 years of telecommunications carrier history. This has led to the argument in favor of network neutrality and a return to the common carrier principles that networks should neither discriminate due to content nor be liable for content.

Internet networks are in many respects already treated like common carriers. ISPs are largely immune from liability for third party content. The Good Samaritan provision of the Communications Decency Act established immunity from liability for third party content on grounds of libel or slander. The DMCA established that ISPs which comply with DMCA would not be liable for the copyright violations of third parties on their network.

Legal implications

Common carriers are subject to special laws and regulations which differ depending on the means of transport used, e.g. sea carriers are often governed by quite different rules than road carriers or railway carriers. In common law jurisdictions as well as under international law, a common carrier is absolutely liable[3] for goods carried by it, with four exceptions:[4]

  • An act of nature
  • An act of the public enemies
  • Fault or fraud by the shipper
  • An inherent defect in the goods

A sea carrier may also, according to the Hague-Visby Rules, escape liability on other grounds than the above mentioned, e.g. a sea carrier is not liable for damages to the goods if the damage is the result of a fire onboard the ship or the result of a navigational error committed by the ship's master or other crewmember.

Carriers typically incorporate further exceptions into a contract of carriage, often specifically claiming not to be a common carrier.

An important legal requirement for common carrier as public provider is that it cannot discriminate, that is refuse the service unless there is some compelling reason (e.g. post doesn't allow to send cash). As of 2007, the status of Internet Service providers as common carriers and their rights and responsibilities is widely debated (network neutrality).

It is also important to remember that the term common carrier does not exist in continental Europe but is distinctive to common law systems, particularly law systems in the U.S.A.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Stokes v. Saltonstall, 38 U.S. 181 (1839).
  2. ^ Gomez v. Superior Court (Walt Disney Co.), 35 Cal. 4th 1125 (2005).
  3. ^ Lovett v. Hobbs (1680) 89 Eng. Rep. 836.
  4. ^ Gregory v Commonwealth Railways Cmr (1941) 66 CLR 50 at 74
  5. ^ De Witt: Multimodal Transport, LLP 1995, p. 23.

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