We pause this week to celebrate our longtime friend Gene Crick, a digital rights activist and former president of EFF-Austin, who passed away August 14 in Texas at age 73. Gene was a tireless advocate for free speech, a free, open, and inclusive Internet, and digital rights for everyone in the state of Texas. He worked for many years to bring free Internet access to communities, especially rural and underserved areas, and advocated for broadband access for rural communities.

Gene was ahead of his time in recognizing the power and community-building potential of the Internet, and the pitfalls of an Internet controlled by marketing interests. “He was devoted to community networking,” said Jon Lebkowsky, co-founder, secretary, and board member of EFF-Austin, who knew and worked with Gene for many years.

Gene, he remembers, was a folksy Texan from a small town east of Austin who had a great sense of humor. “I thought he was one of the funniest guys I’d ever run into,” said Lebkowsky about first meeting Gene at EFF-Austin’s monthly public meetings back in the 1990s.

Later, when the web was in its toddler stage, deep in the throes of excessive speculation that marked the first dot com bubble, Gene talked in 2000 about the “dark horse on the horizon” that threatened to turn the web into one big shopping mall with no place for innovators, creators, culture, and speech just for the sake of speech.

“We are creating, if we're not careful, a commercial medium that is being controlled upstream by infrastructure-level decisions,” Gene said an article about the Internet’s effects on society and politics. “There's interests that want to determine whether we can have proprietary architecture and proprietary access to infrastructure. That's scary, because decisions are being made from a commercial engine.” Capitalism isn’t evil, he said—it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. “What it's not supposed to do is set the national agenda and maintain that ethical mooring that we've been talking about,” he said.

Gene founded and worked at several organizations whose missions were to provide open access to communities. He was executive director at the Metropolitan Austin Interactive Network (MAIN), a nonprofit that provided web access to other nonprofits and training in developing web sites. The organization, partnering with arts and library groups, established access stations in 25 cities in the mid- to late-1990s. To this day, it still provides free websites for nonprofits. Gene believed strongly in an inclusive Internet and recognized it could be used to polarize and segregate if access and control are only available to certain groups.

Gene was president of EFF-Austin in the 1990s. The nonprofit group originally was formed in 1991 with the intention that it would become the first chapter of Electronic Frontier Foundation. However, EFF decided not to become a chapter-based organization, and EFF-Austin became a separately-incorporated, independent nonprofit organization focusing on cyber liberties, digital rights, and emerging technologies. EFF-Austin is now a member of the Electronic Frontier Alliance, which EFF launched in 2016.

Gene founded the Texas Internet Service Providers Association and was a board member for Rural Telecom Congress, which advocates for broadband access for rural communities. He was a member of the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee, and advised Australia and New Zealand on community technology development.

“The thrust of all the work he was doing was to make telecom services like the Internet as broadly available as possible,” said Lebkowsky. His work “did touch a lot of people.”

We are grateful for Gene’s passion for inclusiveness, and his vision of enabling underserved communities and organizations all over Texas—and beyond—to connect with each other and world. His successors at EFF-Austin continue to advocate for digital rights, representing an enduring legacy in which we are proud to have played any role.