Google should be declared a public utility, Ohio lawsuit demands

The search giant should be classified similarly to electricity and gas providers, says a complaint filed by the state's attorney general.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google faces another competition lawsuit.

Angela Lang/CNET

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit against Google on Tuesday asking the court to legally declare the search giant a public utility, akin to electricity and gas providers. 

The lawsuit also alleges Google hurts its rivals by prioritizing its own products and services in search results, displaying them above those of competitors. The case doesn't seek any monetary damages. 

"This suit does not argue that Google's dominance of internet search is good or bad when viewed in isolation. Those issues are left to be resolved elsewhere," the complaint reads. "Accepting this fact, the first claim is narrowly focused on establishing that Google's provision of internet search is properly classified as a common carrier and/or public utility under Ohio common law."

The complaint comes as Google faces intense antitrust scrutiny more broadly. Last October, the US Justice Department filed a landmark case against the tech giant alleging it broke antitrust law by cutting deals with device makers to be the default search engine on their devices, a move that blocked competitors. The lawsuit also said Google used the dominance of its Android operating system to pressure device makers to preload Google apps on their phones. 

In December, a consortium of nearly 40 attorneys general, including Ohio's Yost, filed a case alleging that the tech giant's search results favored its own services over those of more-specialized rivals, similar to claims made in Ohio's separate complaint Tuesday.

Google said Ohio's case has "no basis in fact or law."

"AG Yost's lawsuit would make Google Search results worse and make it harder for small businesses to connect directly with customers," a Google spokesman said in a statement. "Ohioans simply don't want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company." 

The search giant has been grappling with antitrust woes around the world, too. On Monday, Google was fined $268 million to settle a competition probe in France. As part of the deal, Google agreed to make changes to its advertising technology business.