In America, the first telegraph line was run by the federal government, from 1844 to 1846. As historian Burton Folsom explained,
Cave Johnson, the Postmaster General, argued that the use of the telegraph “so powerful for good or evil, cannot with safety be left in the hands of private individuals uncontrolled.” Only the government, Johnson concluded, could be trusted to operate the telegraph in “the public interest.”
Johnson’s assessment proved dead wrong. After two years, Congress tired of the losses and privatized the line. Entrepreneurs figured out how to make it profitable and quickly turned the telegraph into a national, then international enterprise.
Though the scent of power lured Congress into arrogating the telegraph unto itself, the reality of financial loss convinced it to surrender that monopoly. That doesn’t happen too often these days, does it?