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A common carrier is a company that transports goods or people for anyone who is willing to pay, as opposed to a contract carrier that only serves a certain clientele. The term refers to companies like airlines or couriers, but in the context of communication it can also include telephone companies and internet service providers (ISPs).
A common carrier is a company that offers its services to everyone while operating under “ministerial authority.” These companies, such as airlines, railroads, bus lines and freight companies serve customers under a regulatory framework. The term also applies to telecommunications companies. For example, AT&T was designated a common carrier, providing a virtual monopoly on phone service in the U.S. while being required by law to build out its phone network into less profitable rural areas. With the rise of net neutrality as a political issue in the 21st century, there were calls to designate ISPs into common carriers, which the U.S. Federal Communications Commission did in 2015 to preserve net neutrality rules.