EET: Your NAB speech goes to one of the more conservative broadcast sectors, the radio industry. What do you plan to tell them?
Gage: I'll make a lot of points about digital radio changing the way we think about spectrum ownership, and how most traditional broadcasters still have not left the world of "This is mine, and you can't have my spectrum." Sure, it's present in the TV broadcast world as well, but at least the switch from analog to SD [standard-definition] and HDTV broadcast has gotten many in the TV industry to think about the power of spectrum reuse. The impact of technology changes like spread-spectrum has not been recognized in the radio industry at large, and the subtlety possible in allocating spectrum certainly hasn't been recognized in the legal domain.
There are forces coming to bear in some of the new technologies that are catching most players by surprise. At the NAB Futures Conference in late March, Paul Jacobs of the Qualcomm wireless Internet group made a presentation on the new MediaFlo technology, and he told the audience, "Look, we're buying towers in metro areas, we're acquiring spectrum in order to send video to cell phones, but you needn't think we're going to compete with you." The NAB attendees were really livid, saying that Jacobs hadn't been truthful about interference issues in the past the usual.
EET: There's also the extreme positions taken by content owners for use of content in digital broadcasting or Internet radio, for that matter.
Gage: For many years, [musician] Peter Gabriel was the voice of reason in this. When Thai or Malaysian CD pirates would get hold of his latest CD and make cheap street copies, he said he considered it a part of his advertising budget, since he'd never get exposure in Bangkok through normal means. The rest of the industry laughed at that, but some of the folks in the Recording Industry Association of America are getting the point at least I hope so.
EET: And then there's Jack Valenti, the former voice of content unreason in the Motion Picture Association of America.
Gage: You're right about his history, but I'll give Jack some credit. Valenti has signed on to Bono's efforts to insist on total debt relief for Africa, so I'm willing to say a kind word for him. I've been watching the way Bono has used technology to bring about change during the recent U2 tour. [Sun partnered with U2 on a Java-based technology for concert goers to enlist in Bono's ONE campaign for AIDS treatment and poverty relief in Africa.] He's getting the audience to instantly indicate support for debt relief through a mass cell phone action instead of waving Bic lighters for an encore, they're waving their cell phones, sending messages of support to ONE.org to take joint political action.
I'm not trying to say Sun is a model of altruism, but when we want to help schools, communities, the disadvantaged, we'll help sponsor something like NetDay [the program Gage founded to bring technology to underprivileged schools]. When one guy at Sun tried to brand a portion of the effort, I almost had him fired. You can't be doing this kind of thing to give your company immediate publicity.
EET: Is social concern a subject that has legs in the engineering community?
Gage: I see some very hopeful signs. Look at Richard Newton, dean of the engineering college at Berkeley. He's been instrumental in looking for ways to get technologies to the developing world, going outside his domain to work with people like Jay Keasling. Keasling is the guy at Berkeley's Synthetic Biology Department who tinkers with E. coli to fabricate a malaria cure. Keasling and Newton have been working on licensing agreements applying to a range of biotechnologies and computing technologies, where those who want to sell solutions at cost pay zero royalties. If you want to make money off something, then the royalties become costly. This doesn't solve the problem overnight of getting costly medicines distributed in the developing world, but it's certainly a start. Newton has the kind of vision that should be nurtured in the engineering community.