The replacement of Public Services with Digital Services is often used as a pretext for deregulation

Innisfil

The Town of Innisfil has decided to partner with Uber for transit instead of buses. They will get rid of their old bus system, and subsidize the use of Uber by their citizens.

This is the logical development of what Douglas Rushkoff explained in his last book “Throwing Rocks At The Google Bus”. First, they protest as private companies begin to use public infrastructure. Then, they get rid of the public infrastructure.

Emails replaced letters, Messenging apps replaced phones, Uber is replacing buses, etc.

But the question is different from the situation where old companies are getting disrupted by new ones such , Airbnb replacing Hotels.

Public Services are associated with a social consensus that is usually expressed through democratic elections. If they are public it’s because we consider that they should be available to all, regardless of income, physical ability and/or mental acuity. Of course, there is nothing new with Public Services being provided by private companies. But then, they are usually subject to some regulation.

This leads to think that the replacement of Public Services with new Digital Services is a pretext for deregulation. Code is not always Law. IMAP or POP protocols are no replacement for 200 years of Communications regulations. And Uber Terms of Use are no replacement for Public Transportation regulations.

What will happen then? What if we begin to rate citizens as Apps rate users: will someone get blacklisted because he got a bad rating? What about surge pricing: will citizens experience a higher price when demand is increasing?

The City subsidizing the fares will use that leverage to make sure the rules are fair, but will it be enough? Digital Services can provide the same function as Public Services but they are not necessarily equivalent. And we should take in to account both the advantages and the problems of deregulation when making the switch.