ChronoFish skated right up to the edge of the issue. All of the metered services deemed to be utilities (such as electricity, gas or water) are subject to governmental oversight through the state utility boards. Ideally, these boards mandate a minimum level of service and infrastructure quality and place a cap on usage costs in exchange for an effective monopoly. The utilities charge a (relatively) low monthly fee for the connection to the grid, then charge the customer for true metered usage, subject to dispute resolution procedures.
If I go away on vacation for three weeks, my utility bills are a small fraction of the usual amount; but my phone, cable and internet bills remain the same as every other month. This results in much greater profit for them. I don't see these companies offering to discount my bill for the reduced usage. The "service" (quotes used to differentiate them from utilities, not meant as a slight) providers want the best of both worlds. They want to rake in the cash without having their feet held to the fire when it comes to quality of service or universal accessibility. In most other industries competition largely substitutes for government oversight, but in many areas there are usually just a few (sometimes only one) "service" providers for consumers to choose from. So far as I can tell, the only reason that these types of providers are not regulated as utilities is due to the huge political contributions they make with the money they get from us. The "service" providers may claim that, unlike utilities, they provide "non-essential" services, and should therefore be exempt from regulation, but this is rapidly changing in our fast-paced modern world.
This is nothing new. Fifteen years ago I was involved in a multi-vehicle slide-off accident (icy roads) in Michigan. While no one was injured, one person (not me) was taken by ambulance to the hospital for examination (after refusing the first ambulance, a second was called to take her to the hospital). About a month later I was billed by the local emergency services department (about $450, if I recall correctly), despite the fact that I didn't call for the ambulance or make use of it's services. Since I was driving a company car, my employer (or more likely, their insurance company) took care of the bill; but if I had been responsible I would have fought it. I have to assume that all parties involved received the same bill.
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