Will Search Become a Public Utility?

Is Google taking it in this direction?

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When you think of public utilities, you think of things such as water, electricity, and telecommunications, right? Well, what if search were added to that list? How would you feel about that?



It’s an interesting thought and one that, according to Kevin Ryan of Motivity Marketing, is not too far out in left field. He did not mince words when he told WebProNews, "Search is going to be considered a public utility."

If you look at various definitions of the term "public utility," you can see that they often explain it as a monopoly on the services it provides. Since Google is clearly the leader in search, with comScore’s most recent report showing that the search company occupies 63.7 percent of the market, is it a monopoly?

Although many rumors have indicated as much, no one has ever challenged the idea until last week. The New York Times reports that France did, in fact, call the search giant a monopoly in regards to advertising in online searches.

Not only is Google a leader in search and advertising, but it is also quickly gaining ground in the mobile industry. It has and is continuing to receive its fair share of antitrust concerns from both the U.S. and abroad in all these areas.

Incidentally, Ryan also points out in the above video that Google obtained a license to buy and sell electricity earlier this year.

Based upon this information, the idea of search as a public utility doesn’t really seem too far off after all.

"It’s going to get really, really interesting really fast," said Ryan.

How do you see this playing out?

Will Search Become a Public Utility?
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  • Guest

    Just because 67% of users CHOOSE Google as their search engine does not make it a monopoly when there are any number of other search engines that could be used. I use several search engines, Google just being one of them. A monopoly, in my opinion, is when you don’t have a choice but are required to use a single service such as with electric, gas or water in a given area.

    • Ali

      For some reasons (probably related to it’s size and dominance) people have expectations of Google that they don’t have, and would be completely illogical to have, in relation to other commercial organizations.

      Google isn’t perfect. Who is ? (From experience I had problems with Google, caused by Google, which whilst difficult were resolved). Every time Google has a problem or launches a product a bandwagon of finger pointing or paranoia commences. In the same timeframe major banks went belly up, an oil company poluted an ocean and various countries had to be bailed out. Why no equivalent web hysteria about these events ?

      Google is in the position it is in because it has the best product on the market – full stop.

      They are a commercial organization whose intent is to make money. I personally feel much safer with that, and the implications for secondary agendas, than placing control of search into the hands of politicians or statutory bodies whose secondary agendas would be unfathomable

  • http://www.jessefisherdomains.com Jesse Fisher’s Cheap Domains

    Google will not become a public utility as long as the free market remains free.

    If Google becomes corrupted by its power and in turn corrupts the government so they put legal roadblocks against their competitors, then it will essentially enjoy a monopoly. Neighbor of mine met such roadblocks when he tried to build an oil refinery in the US. Government bureaucrats kept moving the goal posts.

    Hmm… then again, maybe the marxists in the White House will nationalize Google! We’ll see.

    BTW, as a homeowner, I can get a license to buy and sell electricity. Anyone can. Just fill up your roof with solar panels and you can sell your power to the grid.

  • http://www.arpwn.com Guest

    Google like so many other companies these days (insurance, banking and pharma come to mind along with big oil) are these huge… globally dominant organizations that to an extent are becoming beyond individual governments abilities to maintain, control or regulate. Should the US government be so stupid as to even attempt to regulate Google in some fashion, they merely could pull a China and leave the US market.. I’m certain Dubai would love to house the central offices of one of the worlds most influential corporations. I’d love to see search classified as a public utility, and then again, I would love to see the existing utilities be provided to me as search is now… FREE! Bottom line, search cannot be a public utility.. how will it be regulated, taxed and paid for? And what’s to stop me from using baidu… this article was inherently stupid. Wont happen.

  • http://www.desperateamateurs.com DesperateAmateurs.com

    Don’t we have enough bills to pay.

  • Guest

    “A monopoly, in my opinion, is when you don’t have a choice but are required to use a single service such as with electric, gas or water in a given area.”

    — As in when a website needs to draw visitors? Monopolies don’t only exist in the B2C sphere, they can be in the B2B sphere. That is where Google is an indisputable monopoly.

  • http://www.tyloon.com/ Guest

    “Since Google is clearly the leader in search, with comScore’s most recent report showing that the search company occupies 63.7 percent of the market, is it a monopoly?”

    The internet is a GLOBAL MEDIA, why the ‘experts’ always refer to SEO in English? how many Chinese and Spanish users go online searching in their language?

    I think they need to start looking at the internet on a global aspect.

    Multilingual SEO, that’s the future, even though some companies are already using it.


  • http://www.internetmarketingequation.com Jason Lee – Internet Marketing Equation

    To those previous commentors: you are missing the point!

    Google can do almost anything they want with their massive budget!

    Getting a license to sell electricity?

    YES…but did you know they are ALREADY providing high-speed internet as a test in select cities?

    and did you know they bought out…

    …Android Inc – the cell phone maker

    ….AdMob – mobile advertising platform $750 MILLION

    …AOL – internet provider $1 BILLION

    …Gizmo, and GrandCentral – VOIP providers $75 MILLION combined

    IN fact, they have bought over 73 companies since 2001 – see the wikipedia article on it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_acquisitions_by_Google

    “Won’t happen. Google will not become a public utility as long as the free market remains free.”


    “Bottom line, search cannot be a public utility.. how will it be regulated, taxed and paid for?”

    – Same as the cable, phone, internet, and cell phone companies, except that they are going to pioneer a brand new category of combined web technology services that merge the mobile and cable internet technologies that they control.

    “Just because 67% of users CHOOSE Google as their search engine does not make it a monopoly when there are any number of other search engines that could be used.”

    – you are correct, but when a company creates a whole new product/service offering and they are the only ones with the money and power to do it, whether it is a monopoly or not is irrelevant.

    What we need to look out for is the coming wave of mobile technology. Google says that’s they most important thing they are working on right now. WHY? because soon everyone will be walking around with mobile computers in their pockets connected to the web.

    Personally, it sounds really cool to me, but I am sad that Google is the only one with enough resources to get on the leading edge of this stuff…if only I had a few billion dollars….

    • http://www.findandconvert.com Billie

      Ahhh, a referenced and well thought comment. Thank you Jason. The Internet and all the lovely gadgets and gizmos we enjoy now would certainly have a different flavor today if it were not for open source. While a strong supporter of free enterprise, I have an acute phobia of monopolies in any size or shape. Yes, we currently are recipients of a lot of free resources at Google’s largess 16but history has taught us multiple times that monopolies usually end badly for you and me. I just hope their is some toddler out there in stinky diapers that just might give Google a run for their money some day.

  • http://dimensionasalon.com/ Dimension A Salon

    I am placing my bets on articles I have tracking about how we might be charged for usage similarly to what is being talked about in the cellular markets. My bets though are still on Google for maintaining dominance. Who knows, maybe Google, Bing, and Yahoo! will want $$ to gain access to their organic data. Now that would be a twist.

  • http://webtheplanet.com Dick

    I wouldn’t worry too much what Google is doing. Remember Microsoft and Yahoo?
    Everyone was afraid Microsoft and Yahoo were going to be the biggest kids on the block and Google took awhile to rise out of obscurity but with the help of thousands, perhaps millions of computer users loaning their machine to Google, they became one of the biggest search engines out there (they still aren’t the biggest but the most used). Yahoo really is the biggest search engine out there with the biggest amount of servers.
    Profit is not evil! If you are progressing your business through lawful means then you are doing the right thing. I’m wondering how that OS by Google and Google TV are coming along?
    While making your climb to the top just don’t forget to look behind you. Someone may club you in the head and take your place in line.
    Public utility? Political argument I would more likely suspect which I tend to avoid. Ultimately this decision is to be made by each government and not Google. Remember what happened in China to Google? Some countries the government official comes around every month to collect your taxes at your place of business. It more likely a point of view from a specific narrow field. I would suspect that some countries have already made search a utility. Some ramblings and thoughts to consider.

  • Guest

    Google as a company have made great achievements, but the google search engine is not that special. I think only rich and/or uninformed people would use the google search engine if it cost anything.

    • Guest

      Nevermind. I don’t think he meant that there would be a fee for using search, just that it will be more regulated. That’s nothing new though, Google have already had suits against them for not removing content fast enough from the results pages. They’ve had the issue with China, etc. Of course there will be regulations put on the search engines.

  • Guest

    Derp, maybe the marxists in the white house WHARGARBL COMMIE OBAMA GARBL!

    Take that shit back to the comments section on the website of your local rag.

    • Guest

      well -it was pelossi that suggested
      -if they cant get control of the internet they will turn it into a public utility.
      beholden to the facts and the truth will set you free.

  • Lyle

    In the light of what has been happening this past year or so, in congress and the white house, don’t you just get goose-step bumps thinking about it?

  • Guest

    “Hmm… then again, maybe the marxists in the White House will nationalize Google! We’ll see.”

    What a surprise. A witless anti-Obama comment from a Utah resident. How are your wives doing, anyway? Have they graduated high school yet?

    • don muntean

      Just because you disagreed with the comment doesn’t excuse your slur at Mormons – that comment was rude and uncouth.

  • http://procarpetsysnj.com/ Joe – Toms River Carpet Cleaning

    Google looks like it will dominate for years to come, but keep in mind that the bigger they are the harder they fall. Things change quick in the online world so it will be interesting. I don’t think they will ever be considered a utility, but I see where your going.

  • http://mst3.wordpress.com Doc

    @Ali – I think you’re spot on!

    To answer the author’s question, no, I don’t think search can ever become a utility, in the sense the question is phrased. It has become an everyday part of the average person’s life, however, much like celular phones did, and television before them, and the landline telephone before that, radio before that, electricity before that, public water before that…

    OMG! Maybe it CAN!

  • http://www.seobychristopherwest.com Chris

    All this sounds fairly a possibility, but would that mean we would all start paying for the service? After all we PAY for electricity, water, petrol, tv, etc and we pay for broadband or any other internet connection – but could it mean been billed by Google for how often we use their search engine??

    that sounds daunting and sounds like a sure fire way to kill the search giant – but it is possible…

  • http://www.greenlivingenergysavings.com/ greenl19

    Based on what I know if you are smart enough and have plenty of money you can do or become just about any thing you please. I don’t think this will happen in my lifetime but what do I know I didn’t think a lot of things would happen that have If it does I don’t think that will take the monopoly out of search

  • Douglas Gross

    A monopoly is as the guest who posted here pointed out, when there is no choice about who is going to provide something you MUST buy. Something you WANT may only come from one company at a price you may think is absurd, but it is not like food or electricity. You do not need it to eat or be warm enough to live through a night’s sleep rather than freeze to death. France is just another wimpy socialist country that considers everything an entitlement. Google is not something you will die without or be deprived without in any sense of need. Additionally, Google does not come at a price unless you want to advertise on Google.

    Personally, I no longer use Google outside of my work as a web developer. I have heard rumors that Google employees can block a site if they don’t like what they read, and I have read where specific blogs have disappeared from Google after getting a little too political. Also, Google is currently in deep water for accessing databases on wireless connections, and you can read all about that by searching for “Google wardriving.”

    Another note on monopolies. Businesses today do not need to establish a monopoly, because they have learned they can just forget about competitive pricing and all the other businesses in the same market will continually drive prices up. Google services, however, may cost money for businesses, but they are free for individuals.

  • http://www.JesusAndTheBibleToday.com Lisa

    If they do this, I believe it will anger many, many people. Enough so to stop using search engines even. For myself, I know I wouldn’t “pay” for this service. All they’d be doing by doing this is making it available for the people who could afford it and everyone else wouldn’t use it. Especially in today’s economy. Plus, it would really cut down on alot of business as I see it. I can only pray this doesn’t happen because it would only be taking severe advantage of people.

    • http://www.JesusAndTheBibleToday.com Lisa

      It wouldn’t surprise me if this happened either. The government is getting their fingers into everything they have no business getting into these days. Just another way of controlling the general population if you ask me. Free speach, media, etc. has slowly but surely been taken away from the public. It’s all sounding more and more like what Hitler did before people figured out what a tyrant he was. America is headed in the same direction if we allow it. Unfortunately, so many people just DON’T SEE what’s been happening and how our freedoms have been slowly but surely been taken away from them in the past years. Kind of scary if you ask me. The Bible says we’re in the end days now………this would seem to be just another step to complete government control of everything………

      • Douglas Gross

        Yep, and the real leadership and solutions are buried in lies and pettiness.

      • http://www.spyimplants.webs.com don muntean

        You got that spot on Lisa!

  • Guest

    Let’s face it, if you try to make people pay for Google, they will simply use another search engine that does not charge. Down goes Google. If you try to shut down all other competition, well then it really does prove that there never really was much of a difference between capitalism and communism, just more for the elite to steal in a capitalist society. Got a problem with that?

  • http://www.spyimplants.webs.com don muntean

    Search could become a ‘public utility’ only in places where socialism runs rampant as this is something left-wing socialists would advocate.

    Speaking for myself – I use Google not because I have to – nor because they have a so-called monopoly but rather – because they offer the best services. Google spends some of the money they earn on ‘real’ development – making for a superior service.

    That is how one chooses products and/or services within a society that values freedom and free enterprise…

    If search becomes a so-called public utility then we lose something of our freedom and we have to disregard the principles of free enterprise. If search becomes a so-called public utility there will continue to be a so-called monopoly only – it will be a government monopoly!

    Let’s not net socialism suck away yet another of our rights!

    • Douglas Gross

      I have to agree. I grow so tired of all these leftist wimps who act like they are entitled to just sit around and collect because they can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and earn what they want. But, when you see on forums people saying things like “socialism is lovely” you got to realize there are just people out there that have no clue. Then you search on the engines a bit and see George Lucas thinks Obama would be a Jedi and he wants to make a free public Internet with only educational content on it and you got to think, “Gee, George, who is going to pay for it?” Then there are the infomercial voters who see 30 seconds of a political ad on TV and their mind is made up. Get that crap out of my damn wallet, man!!

    • Rachael

      There are plenty of good reasons for the government to regulate real public utilities, but Google is NOT a public utility, yet. There are very significant difference between a real public utility and Google. 1)Google is free and is not required for basic human existence 2)Anyone can freely and easily choose to use any other search engine they want. 3) Google has a monopoly only because people prefer it. Nothing forces anyone to use it. I use Google because I can quickly find what I want and I like the simple interface. Everytime I try Bing I am disapointed and Yahoo interface is too busy for my tastes.

      Internet and broadband services should be considered public utilities, but not a website like Google just because it is popular and has the market share. Google is being attacked because of its success.

      Also stop with the bashing of socialism and liberalism and stick to the topic! The minute people start writing anti-socialism rhetoric on a blog about web development, it becomes very clear that that person isnt intelligent or mature enough to discuss facts and opinions and must resort to childish name calling. If you want to debate a topic from a conservative point of view, more power to you, but anti-socialism rants are immature and cop out – especially when it is completely irrelevant to the topic of discussion.

  • http://www.syndicat.com Niels Dettenbach

    YES and NO!

    As searching was and will be one of the main required functions by internet users it is very bad to see that there are nearly no suitable RFCs or open standards – the base for really open and “public” search network and commercial web indices / “search engines” only.

    It is not required of thinking future search engines in the classic way – but runned as a public service by any government and paid by taxes or public sponsors.

    We need a new and open search solution based on open protocols which allow a new protocol infrastructure which allows to build different indices and indice structures by possibly “anyone”.

    Today only a few major commerciakl search engines want to tell us what “efficient searching” is and which results we have to await if we search for something. Such monopoly by principe is totaly against the principes of a autonomous, decentral internet. Why a efficient search engin needs hughe ressources of exclusive computational power? This are things Google an Co. are telling us as this is the main “reason” why they are monopoles today.

    This idea is not completely new – many years ago there still exist some first open “search network standards” like the WAIS protocol or Harvest – but they are not fit our needs today.

    I’m shure we can solve this major problem with the freedom of open searching (open for webmasters, search services and users) by developing a set of new open protocol / service / data exchange standards mainly on the existing decentral infrastructures and ressources.

    We have some first concepts and working on “proof of concepts” within our new open source project community “seeky.org”. Peoples interested in that theme / project or want to provide contributions are very welcome to join our mailing list seeky@freidenk.org or (when ready next days the http://www.seeky.org website).

    Let’s do it! 😉



  • http://www.sagawebsites.com Geoff

    When the politicians realize the power that those who control the search will hold in the future, there is no doubt that they will attempt to tax and/or regulate it. This is true whether or not it comes in the form of anti-trust legislation. Perhaps it will be deemed a ‘scarce resource’, like radio waves.

  • http://novelgraphicnovels.com/ Steve Edward

    I see Google more as a ‘public library’ of knowledge and information, much like a regular library provides in any city, or any country.

    In this sense, Google is already a public utility, but without charging its users.
    To carry the analogy further, as a public library, it’s the sponsors, i.e. the advertisers who pay for the public library and who hope to have their information to be ‘purchased/ used /reviewed’ by the users of the ‘electronic library.’

    This kind of economic model is already well established in precedence, i.e. multiple corporate foundations already donate umpteen amount of dollars towards ‘public use services’ that are in fact free to the public. The corporations in turn benefit economically from the ‘ good public relations’
    they establish with the public.

    In my mind, Google very much fulfills this very traditional economic model, i.e free to the public, but chargeable to advertisers who hope to benefit from the ‘pr.’

    As for Google being a monopoly, I don’t believe this label really applies. Monopoly by definition is a kind of business model where all other ‘would be competitors’ are shut out of the market place using anything from intimidation and force to manipulation of both suppliers and consumers. Google hardly intimidates, manipulates or forces anyone to use them instead of another search engine. The field is still open to ‘would be competitors’ to exceed Google search results at anytime.

    I do hope the Government stays out of this amazing freedom search engines like Google, and other search engines have delivered to the peoples of the world. The day search engine technology becomes Government defined, is the day peoples of the world will begin their descent toward tyranny and oppression.

    • http://www.armandaudrey.com Armand Audrey

      I absolutely agree wit you on that last part. The idea of government regulation of search engines is akin to indoctrination in schools and censorship in public libraries. Unfortunately, we have the latter two already, which is all the more reason to fight to preserve the free market on search engines and information on the Internet.

  • Pizzaman7

    The government has been taking more and more of our liberties these days and people are waking up and not happy about it.

    We don’t need another poorly run “public” or “government-run” entity that will surely need high taxation to support it and with unionized high cost labor that will be in constant need of bail-outs.

    Search and the Internet is not a need and not a right either. You don’t need it to live. Leave private enterprise alone. Privately-run entities tend to be competitive and responsive to their customers. They don’t have monopolies where tax money is at stake. Let the search engines compete for our business. It will make them better.

    Anything public is froth with fraud, inefficiency, and waste. When public funds are used to pay for something bad things happen. It hasn’t helped many of our school systems.

    I would rather stop using search engines if they become “public”. We now are subsidizing Internet access spending millions of unneeded public financing. Now it is coming to light that this is costing the taxpayers a whopping $4000 per household !

  • http://www.milatova.com Melusien

    Google is in fact a free public utility, and others are competing to provide search services for free.
    I have yet to see electricity or water companies competing to provide me with their goods for free.
    Should Google begin to charge for searching services and thus becoming a real “public service”, I wonder how many hours it would take to Google’s “clients” to move to Yahoo or Bing search, that presumably would remain free?

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