Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit Tuesday as part of a new effort to have Google declared public utility and subject to government regulation.
The lawsuit, which was filed in a court in Delaware County, Ohio, seeks to use a century-old law to regulate Google by enforcing a legal designation historically used for railroads, electricity, and the phone to the search engine.
“When you own the railroad, the power company or the cell phone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everyone access,” Mr. Yost, a Republican, said in a press release. He added that Ohio was the first state to take such a lawsuit against Google.
If Google was declared as a common carrier as a utility company, it would prevent the company from prioritizing its own products, services and websites in search results.
Google said it has none of the attributes of a common carrier that typically provides standardized service for a fee using public goods, such as rights of way.
The “lawsuit would worsen Google search results and make it more difficult for small businesses to connect directly with customers,” José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, said in a statement. “Ohioans just don’t want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company. This lawsuit has no basis in fact or in law and we will defend ourselves against it in court.
While the Ohio lawsuit is overblown, there is a long history of government control of certain types of businesses, said Andrew Schwartzman, senior researcher at the nonprofit Benton Institute for Broadband and Society. “Think of the ‘Canterbury Tales’. Travelers needed a place to stay and eat on long road hikes, and innkeepers were not allowed to deny them accommodation or rip them off, ”he said.
After a series of federal lawsuits filed against Google last year, the Ohio lawsuit is part of a next wave of state actions aimed at regulating and restraining the power of Big Tech. Also on Tuesday, the Colorado legislature passed a data privacy law that would allow consumers to opt out of data collection.
On Monday, the New York Senate passed antitrust legislation that would make it easier for plaintiffs to sue dominant platforms for abuse of power. After years of inaction in Congress with technology legislation, states are starting to fill the regulatory void.
Ohio was also one of 38 states that filed an antitrust complaint in December accusing Google of being a monopoly and using its dominant position in Internet search to oust smaller rivals.