Carl L. Compher/The Ohio Times via AP
CLEVELAND — Richard Cordray, Ohio’s attorney general, is calling on the federal government to designate Google a public utility and, if so, to open a full investigation into whether it colluded with other companies to stifle competition.
In a letter dated Thursday, Mr. Cordray accused Google of operating as a monopolist, citing its dominance of search services and mobile applications such as Google Maps and Google Now.
The letter comes as Mr. Cordray prepared to formally challenge Google in Ohio courts this week for violation of Ohio antitrust laws. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, accused Google of unfairly favoring its own content in searches, while burying competing content.
In a statement, Google denied wrongdoing and called the lawsuit “misguided and without merit.”
Mr. Cordray wrote that the Federal Trade Commission, the antitrust enforcement agency for the U.S., should investigate Google’s practices. That agency declined to investigate Google in March, citing insufficient evidence that the company had violated antitrust laws, according to a letter addressed to Ohio regulators by an FTC representative.
Although Mr. Cordray argues that Google’s actions are illegal, he does not have the power to put it under government scrutiny. Ohio antitrust law requires the attorney general to seek permission from the Ohio Department of Commerce to file a lawsuit. The Commerce Department typically requires time and money for what is essentially a lengthy process that can take months and millions of dollars.
So far, Mr. Cordray has had no discussions with Commerce officials. In his letter, Mr. Cordray wrote that the relationship between his office and the Commerce Department “has deteriorated.” He also said that it was unacceptable that Commerce officials do not want to “engage in a constructive way” with his office on Google.
A Commerce spokesman said the agency “did not agree to any discussions with the attorney general,” but said it had no control over state attorneys general. He added that Commerce was working with the FTC on the case against Google.
Commerce Department officials also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Google’s activities jeopardize every Ohioan’s interest, and the public should know what’s going on,” Mr. Cordray said in a statement. “Everyone has a right to a free and open internet and the importance of the right to be fairly treated online is irrefutable. These issues are of the utmost importance to individuals in every corner of the state and throughout the country.”
A spokesman for Google disputed Mr. Cordray’s allegations. “Like many countries, Europe has moved toward searching platforms in general, and search engines in particular, as competitive competitors,” he said. “This call for Federal Government intervention to create competition within a highly regulated industry should come as no surprise.”
Ohio’s long-running attempt to regulate Google is one of several related to the company to be brought by attorneys general and other state officials in the United States. In the United Kingdom, a joint probe by the Competition and Markets Authority and the Information Commissioner’s Office is focusing on whether Google and its competitors colluded in order to keep the companies’ data linked to Google’s services more secure than that of competitors.