Homonym of the month – Utility

I have just read an interesting article by Justin Fox of the Harvard Business Review that discussed the “utility” of dominating technology companies. The article commenced with the innuendo of the word “utility” suggesting its connection to power, water and telephone companies, while later it shifts its use of the word to something can offer a broad use to the population.

A utility could also be person, often a sportsperson, who has skills that are handy and can be attributed to a range of roles that they are asked to perform.

Some dictionary definitions of utility include the state of being useful, beneficial, able to perform several functions (a utility truck), an economic term referring to the total satisfaction received from consuming a good or service, utility clothing that is functional rather than attractive (there’s a market opportunity) or something useful or designed for use.

The keywords that I extract from this paragraph of selected definitions are “broad” & “useful”.

My definition, in an economic sense is: To have a choice of using a service or product that provides the broadest utility to many people for the lowest possible cost.

Does Facebook or Twitter provide utility? Well, Yes, according to my definition.

Do telephone companies or electricity utilities provide “utility”? Yes, but I’m not entirely sure.

Depending where you live, you may not have a choice of which electricity company you can use and as a result they don’t need to offer the lowest possible cost.

I wonder if a company does provide a broad utility to many people, does it then become a monopoly and the sheer goodness, genius or effectiveness of providing my type of “utility” is ultimately regulated.

The words regulation and “lowest cost” just don’t seem comfortable occupying the same sentence.

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