Google Should Be Treated as Utility, Ohio Attorney General Argues in New Lawsuit
Ohio’s attorney general filed a lawsuit asking a judge to rule that Google is a public utility. Ohio said that it is the first state in the country to bring a lawsuit seeking a court declaration that Google is a common carrier subject under state law to government regulation. The lawsuit, which doesn’t seek monetary damages, says that Google has a duty to provide the same rights for advertisements and product placement for competitors as it provides for its own services. “When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R-OH). A Google spokesman said that the remedies sought in the Ohio lawsuit would worsen the company’s search results and impair businesses’ ability to connect directly with customers. “Ohioans simply don’t want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company,” a spokesman said. “This lawsuit has no basis in fact or law and we’ll defend ourselves against it in court.” The lawsuit was influenced by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' recent concurring opinion in which he argued that Twitter and similar companies could face First Amendment restrictions (even though they are not government agencies) and that free-speech law shouldn't necessarily prevent lawmakers from regulating those platforms as common carriers.
Though the Ohio lawsuit is a stretch, there is a long history of government control of certain kinds of companies, said Andrew Schwartzman, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. “Think of ‘The Canterbury Tales.’ Travelers needed a place to stay and eat on long road treks, and innkeepers were not allowed to deny them accommodations or rip them off,” he said.
Google Should Be Treated as Utility, Ohio Argues in New Lawsuit Spurred by Clarence Thomas, Ohio AG wants Google declared a public utility Ohio’s attorney general wants Google to be declared a public utility.