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In most areas of the world, a common carrier is a business enterprise that transports people or goods from one location to another. The term has also come to refer to businesses that offer various types of services to the general public, such as communications. This broader definition has opened the door for many businesses, such as some amusement parks, to be included.
One of the defining characteristics of this type of business is that it is regulated by some sort of agency, and functions with the use of credentials issued by that regulatory body. The process of regulation is to ensure that the carrier complies with accepted and legal safety provisions that are intended to protect the general public. At the same time, the company must comply with the agency’s requirement that the carrier makes its services available to the general populace, without any form of bias or discrimination.
It is important to note that, while most countries have some sort of government regulation of common carriers, the term is generally used in English-speaking countries, most notably the United States and Canada. Other countries, such as those in Europe, are more likely to refer to any business that provides transportation services by the simpler term "carrier." The scope of regulation that applies in different countries will vary, with some nations having very strict rules and procedures that must be followed in order to continue operating. In other countries, the regulations are very broad, leaving a great deal of room for interpretation by individual carriers.
When many people think of a common carrier, the first thought that comes to mind is different types of transportation services. In terms of the transport of people, this would include airlines, rail services, bus lines, and cruise ships. Transportation companies that provide shipping of goods, such as freight lines and international container shipping firms, would also be included.
Along with transportation, many countries have come to include services that transport people in some sort of alternative fashion to also be included in the scope of a common carrier. One example is an amusement park, where people are transported around the park via a roller coaster or some type of transit system. Some countries have gone as far as to include some forms of communications, such as point to point telephone calls, in the definition. The rationale is usually that the voices of the two individuals on the call are transported electronically from their physical locations. The inclusion of communication services within the definition is still somewhat rare, however, although some argue that virtual transport is just as valid a form of transportation as physical transport.