The new general rules relative to public services are based on the principle of the distinction between the public nature of the service and the public or private nature of the provider. Private and public ownership, in fact, are both regarded as suitable for achievement of social goals and are conceived as being in competition with each other. The article analyses the various aspects of recent Italian legislation, in particular the relation between liberalization and privatization; incentives to increase competition; application of the principal of the "general distinction between network and service", and the replacement of special regulations for public services with ones based on principals common to all commercial companies. The author describes the characteristics of the gas industry in Italy and analyses the various phases in gas production and distribution in the light of current legislation, paying particular attention to the role of the public service in liberalization of the gas market. He also highlights the shortcomings in the newly-introduced rules regulating the public services on the basis of the study of this particularly important case.