Although 2010 is only three-fourths over, we have already seen the passing of five major figures in the tech industry, including a former FCC commissioner, the founder of MCI and a senator who inadvertently created an Internet meme because of one memorable quote.
Here’s a closer look at some of the people whose passing will leave the tech industry a little emptier.
John “Jack” Goeken, 80
As the founder of MCI, Goeken was truly a legend in the telecom industry. Goeken became one of the major pioneers of mobile voice communication in the United States when he founded Microwave Communications in 1963 to set up microwave towers to provide long-distance telephone service between Chicago and St. Louis. Goekin ran the company, which later became known as MCI, until 1974 when he left to found Airfone, the first-ever air-to-ground telephone service. Anyone who loves their smartphones owes Goeken a debt of gratitude for getting the ball moving on mobile long-distance communications.
Senator Ted Stevens, 86
Ted Stevens was a mainstay of Alaska politics, as the Republican stalwart served in the United States Senate for more than 40 years. Stevens gained fame in tech circles when he described the Internet as a “series of tubes” during a debate on network neutrality. The full quote from Stevens: “The Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, these tubes can be filled, and if they are filled, when you put your message in it gets in line, and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material.”
While Stevens’ grasp of web technology was fairly dubious, the phrase “Intertubes” became a popular meme in tech circles as an alternate word for the Internet. The Intertubes wasn’t Stevens’ only contribution to the tech industry though, as he was a major proponent of telework and a key figure in net neutrality debates. Stevens died in a plane crash in Alaska this year along with five others.
James Quello, 95
With today’s Federal Communications Commission members taking regular flack from the television industry for being too deferential to the big telecom companies in areas such as spectrum allocation, it’s easy to forget that the FCC has been staffed by people more sympathetic to broadcaster concerns. Among them was James Quello, who served on the FCC for 23 years after being appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1974. Quello, who had been a Detroit broadcasting executive prior to joining the FCC, helped the commission oversee a broad expansion of communications services including cable and satellite television, cellular phones and early Internet services. Quello was also on the FCC when the Justice Department decided to bust up AT&T, which had long wielded monopoly power over America’s telecommunications industry. Quello died of heart and kidney disease in his home of Alexandria, Va., this past January.
Dr. Henry Edward “Ed” Roberts, 68
Roberts’ claim to fame was building the Altair 8800 in the early 1970s, a machine that is credited with being the world’s first personal computer. After reading about the Altair 8800 in Popular Mechanics magazine, two young software engineers named Bill Gates and Paul Allen contacted Roberts and asked if they could design and sell software for the computer. Gates and Allen’s Altair software was to technology what Lennon-McCartney’s “Love Me Do” was to rock’n’roll: a first collaboration that only hinted at major breakthroughs to come in the following years. Gates and Allen paid tribute to Roberts following his passing from pneumonia earlier this year, referring to him as both a friend and a mentor.
James A. Dwyer, Jr., 73
Dwyer is best remembered for his work in pushing wireless communications onto the American market, including his successful bid to lobby the FCC to let independent paging operators build cellular networks to compete with Ma Bell. Dwyer was a founding member of CTIA in 1984 and he served on its board of directors until 2000. He served as chairman of CTIA in 1995 and 1996 when Congress was pushing through the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Dwyer died this past August in his home in Fort Myers, Fla. after an extended illness.