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common carrier

A common carrier, in telecommunications, is an entity that provides wired and wireless communication services to the general public for a fee. A common carrier can be contrasted with a contract carrier, also called a private carrier, which provides services to a limited number of customers.

Because common carriers serve the general public, they are licensed by a regulatory body. In the United States, the common carrier designation made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under authorization of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. One reason common carriers are licensed is to ensure they provide indiscriminate public access and protect the privacy of the general public. Whether or not the FCC has the legal right to declare that internet service providers (ISPs) are common carriers is a major consideration in the net neutrality debate.

This was last updated in April 2017

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