Globally, the water services sector has adopted commercial principles since the 1980s and 1990s. Most of the reforms based on these principles have been introduced as part of broader neoliberal reforms in these countries. Often these reforms are portrayed as being homogenous and standardized, suggesting there is a shared understanding of commercialization. However, in recent years, scholars have explored the lack of universality of these principles when comparing the implementation of these reforms across settings. Across different countries significant differences in implementation and outcomes of commercialization can be identified. In much of this literature, emphasis is placed on the differences visible in the implementation of commercialization across different geographical areas. In this article, we contribute to this literature by questioning the universal application of the principles of commercialization even within the same geographical area and actor. Using the case of community-based organizations in Lamongan Regency, Indonesia, this paper elaborates on the multiple manifestations of commercialization when documenting the actual practices of water operators. We argue that, within even the operations of these water operators, commercial principles are indeed differently implemented from the original commercial model of water provisioning. The deviations from the model can be attributed to not only local conditions under which the water providers operate, but also reflect the interests of the implementing agency and its environment. The deviations from the model of commercialization lead to questions about the validity of this model as they re-interpret key principles of the model. Yet, we find that little of these divergences and re-interpretations are reported upon. As a result, these two models of commercialization, the one practiced by the water operator and the one endorsed by donors and sector organizations co-exist as separate, and equally valid, guidelines. We advocate for a richer vocabulary to describe or refer to different manifestations and interpretations of commercialization as this may lead to a more honest development of water services for all.
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