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January 2001
296 pages  

6 x 9
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Ties That Bind
Economic and Political Dilemmas of Urban Utility Networks, 1800–1990
Jacobson, Charles
A historical guidebook for topics ranging from the networked city to the global internet that illuminates the political, economic, and technological forces shaping the infrastructure of modern life.

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Charles David Jacobson is a senior research associate with Morgan Angel and Associates, public policy consultants in Washington, D.C. He has a Ph.D. in applied history and social sciences from Carnegie Mellon University, and has since consulted for a number of organizations, including the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the World Bank, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Charles D. Jacobson’s Ties That Bind is an excellent blend of economic analysis and historical materials that examines the various problems created by large-scale networks for municipal services over the course of two centuries. Detailed studies of several cities and of several types of services examine the shifting mix of public and private ownership and the changing nature of regulation in response to differing political and economic conditions. This is an important contribution to urban history and to the history of technology.”—Stanley L. Engerman, University of Rochester

“An historical guidebook from the networked city to the global internet. Jacobson brilliantly illuminates the political, economic, and technological forces shaping the infrastructure of modern life.”—Harold L. Platt, Loyola University of Chicago

“This book is a fascinating and important contribution to both urban history and regulatory economics. Interdisciplinary in both scope and method, it should interest scholars in economics, history, law, public policy, and urban studies.”—Werner Troesken, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and University of Pittsburgh

“An impressive work of scholarship. Jacobson traces the development of utility networks in urban areas, specifically public water systems in the early 19th century, electric utilities from the 1880s through the 1980s, and cable television franchising from the 1960s through the 1980s. In particular, this study focuses on Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh. . . . Of special interest is the discussion of how the blends of public and private ownership, as well as the regulatory structure, vary among water, electric, and cable systems. . . . Because of Jacobson's interdisciplinary approach, students, researchers, and practitioners in the fields of economics, history, law, public policy, and technology will find much of interest in his volume.”—Choice

“Successfully weaves elements from economics, politics, technology, and ideology into a satisfying historical account of the regulation of three American service industries. . . . The book delivers on its promise to provide useful insights on regulatory policy until about 1990.”—H-Urban @ H-Net reviews

“Provides a very thoughtful angle of attack for rethinking a series of central questions with respect to municipal service delivery. This book is certain to influence scholarship for many years. Its perspectives should not be ignored.”—H-Urban @ H-Net reviews

“If one desires to better understand the various approaches that legislators have taken to ensure the equitable and efficient delivery of services over fixed networks of pipes and wires, this book is an essential read. ..a great example of history being used to inform public policy.”--Hugh Gorman, EH.NET, Dec. 2001

“An economic historian, [Jacobson] believes that one of the best ways of coming to an understanding of the origin and growth of utilities is through an ordferly portrayal of their history in a few representative locations. Thoroughness and attention to detail assures historical accuracy, and accuracy yields confidence in his conclusions.”—The Journal of Energy Literature VII. 2 2001

“Jacobson’s conclusions illuminate the invisible cords that hold our cities together. ... ‘Ties That Bind’ reminds us that we cannot escape the messy politics that determine whether we will have light or water or television at all.”—Matthew W. Klingle, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Summer 2002

“ . . .excellent . . . I would recommend this well-structured book to both business and urban historians and any other historians interested in public utilities or infrastructure development . . . I would also very highly recommend the book to practicing urban planners and local politicians, for the individual stories are both fascinating and instructive.” —William J. Hausman, Business History Review, Winter 2001

“ . . . an important tool that historians would well be advised to consider when examining municipal infrastructure development. This study is also very important because it places public and private management of utilities central to the analysis and explores some of the implications of adopting one form of management or the other .”—Joanne Abel Goldman, Pa. Mag. of History & Biography, October 2002

“ . . . of great interest to policymakers and analysts seeking a realistic assessment of policy implementation.”--Sarah S. Elkind, Technology and Culture, July 2002

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In the early days of utility development, municipalities sought to shape the new systems in a variety of ways even as private firms struggled to retain control and fend off competition. In scope and consequence, some of the battles dwarfed the contemporary one between local jurisdictions and cable companies over broadband access to the Internet. In this comparative historical study, Jacobson draws upon economic theory to shed light on relationships between technology, market forces, and problems of governance that have arisen in connection with different utility networks over the past two hundred years. He focuses on water, electric, and cable television utility networks and on experiences in four major American cities—Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, arguing that information and transactions costs have played decisive roles in determining how different ownership and regulatory arrangements have functioned in different situations. Using primary sources and bold conceptualizations, Jacobson begins his study by examining the creation of centralized water systems in the first half of the nineteenth century, moves to the building of electric utilities from the 1880s to the 1980s, and concludes with an analysis of cable television franchising from the 1960s to the 1980s. Ties That Bind addresses highly practical questions of how to make ownership, regulatory, and contracting arrangements work better and also explores broader concerns about private monopoly and the role of government in society.


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