Ohio Files Lawsuit Seeking to Declare Google a Public Utility

By Li Hai
Li Hai
Li Hai
Li Hai is a New York-based reporter for The Epoch Times.
June 9, 2021 Updated: June 9, 2021

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit against Google on June 8, asking the court to declare the company a public utility and put the internet search giant under government regulation.

“Google uses its dominance of Internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products—that’s discriminatory and anti-competitive,” Yost said in a statement. “When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access.”

Yost said that Google harms Ohioans because people can’t make the best choices if they don’t get all the information.

Epoch Times Photo
People walk past the Google pavilion at CES 2020 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Jan. 8, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The complaint (pdf) points out that Google, instead of charging a fee, collects and monetizes user data in various ways. It also claims that Google intentionally structures its results pages to prioritize its own products, websites, and services.

“An entity may be characterized as a public utility if the nature of its operation is a matter of public concern and if membership is indiscriminately and reasonably made available to the general public,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit doesn’t seek monetary damages but to prohibit Google from prioritizing its own products, services, and websites on results pages. The lawsuit was filed in Delaware County Court, Ohio.

In a statement emailed to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson from Google responded that common carriers provide a standardized delivery service for a fee, using public assets such as rights-of-way—like a gas or electric company—and Google’s search doesn’t have any of those attributes.

“AG Yost’s lawsuit would make Google search results worse and make it harder for small businesses to connect directly with customers,” the spokesperson said. “Ohioans simply don’t want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company. This lawsuit has no basis in fact or law, and we’ll defend ourselves against it in court.”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative on the high court, in April suggested that Big Tech companies are similar to common carriers.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas poses for the official group photo at the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2018. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

“There is a fair argument that some digital platforms are sufficiently akin to common carriers or places of accommodation to be regulated in this manner,” Thomas wrote in a court opinion. “The analogy to common carriers is even clearer for digital platforms that have dominant market share.”

Thomas wrote that even if digital platforms aren’t close enough to common carriers, they might be treated as places of public accommodation, which provide lodging, food, entertainment, or other services to the public.

“The similarities between some digital platforms and common carriers or places of public accommodation may give legislators strong arguments for similarly regulating digital platforms,” he wrote.

Last December, 38 attorneys general, including Yost, filed a federal lawsuit against Google, claiming the company undermines competition and limits the ability of consumers and advertisers to obtain information and make their own choices. That lawsuit seeks to halt Google’s alleged illegal anticompetitive conduct and restore a competitive marketplace.

Li Hai
Li Hai
Li Hai is a New York-based reporter for The Epoch Times.