Uber is waging a war on regulations, and Amazon grows stronger by the day
Halfway through 2014, and the influence of technology and Silicon
Valley on culture, politics and the economy is arguably bigger than ever
— and certainly more hotly debated. Here are Salon’s choices for the
five biggest stories of the year.
1) Net neutrality is on the ropes.
far, 2014 has been nothing but grim for the principle known as “net
neutrality” — the idea that the suppliers of Internet bandwidth should
not give preferential access (so-called fast lanes) to the providers of
Internet services who are willing and able to pay for it. In January,
the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down
the FCC’s preliminary plan to enforce a weak form of net neutrality.
Less than a month later, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company and
broadband Internet service provider, announced its plans
to buy Time-Warner — and inadvertently gave us a compelling explanation
for why net neutrality is so important. A single company with a
dominant position in broadband will simply have too much power,
something that could have enormous implications for our culture.
situation continued to degenerate from there. Tom Wheeler, President
Obama’s new pick to run the FCC, a former top cable industry lobbyist,
unveiled a new plan for net neutrality that was immediately slammed
as toothless. In May, ATT announced plans to merge with DirecTV.
Consolidation proceeds apace, and our government appears incapable of managing the consequences.
2) Uber takes over.
completing its most recent round of financing, Uber is now valued at
$18.2 billion. Along with Airbnb, the Silicon Valley start-up has become
a standard bearer for the Valley’s cherished allegiance to
“disruption.” The established taxi industry is under sustained assault,
but Uber has made it clear that the company’s ultimate ambitions go far
beyond simply connecting people with rides. Uber has designs on
becoming the premier logistics connection
platform for getting anything to anyone. What Google is to search, Uber
wants to be for moving objects from Point A to Point B. And Google, of
course, has a significant financial stake in Uber.
path has been bumpy. The company is fighting regulatory battles with
municipalities across the world, and its own drivers are increasingly angry at fare cuts,
and making sporadic attempts to organize. But the smart money sees Uber
as one of the major players of the near future. The “sharing” economy
is here to stay.
3) The year of the stream.
Apple bought Beats by Dre.
Amazon launched its own streaming music service. Google is planning a
new paid streaming offering. Spotify claimed 10 million paying customers
and Pandora boasts 75 million listeners every month.