Ohio AG suit seeks declaration of Google as public utility

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking a court to declare Google a public utility and to regulate it as one in the latest twist on the escalating legal efforts to rein in the company that runs the internet’s dominant search engine.

The Republican official is alleging that Google has been abusing its power in a way that is discriminatory and anti-competitive to Ohio residents.

“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 in a statement.

He added that Google’s use of its internet search steers Ohioans to the company’s own products.

Google skewered the lawsuit as a misguided attempt to force changes that would diminish the quality of its search results and hurt small businesses that might not otherwise be found by customers.

“Ohioans simply don’t want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company,” Google said in a statement. “This lawsuit has no basis in fact or law and we’ll defend ourselves against it in court.”

Yost said Ohio is the first state in the country to seek a court declaration that Google is a public utility that should be subject to government regulation.

While the lawsuit is not seeking monetary damages, it is asking the court to require Google “to offer sources or competitors rights equal to its own,” meaning the company should not prioritize the placement of Google-owned products, services and websites on its search results.

The complaint is just the latest in a series of legal threats the tech giant is facing both in the U.S. and abroad, including a multi-state antitrust lawsuit assailing Google’s business practices, which Yost also joined in December.

That is just one of three major antitrust lawsuits filed against Google across the U.S. last autumn, including an attempted crackdown by the U.S. Justice Department. Google has vowed to fiercely contest the allegations in each of those lawsuits in a battle that is expected to take years to resolve.

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