- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

The smile rarely leaves his face as he talks for an hour about the United States’ leading role in international telecommunications development and the future of the Internet.

He works 12-hour days that stretch even longer during his frequent trips abroad, but jokes that his friends would be surprised to learn “that I do get tired and that I’m not always positive.”

Ambassador David A. Gross really loves his job.

“I live much of what I do for a living,” said Mr. Gross, the U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

In November, he led the American delegation at the United Nations-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, Tunisia, where he fought to maintain the U.S. government’s oversight role of the Internet. Mr. Gross called that outcome his greatest feat since taking over the job in August 2001.

“My number-one accomplishment to date probably was keeping the Internet stable and secure in the face of suggestions for the creation of, or establishment of, a multilateral institution taking over control,” Mr. Gross said during a recent interview in his office.

He expects the Internet governance issue to resurface this year when the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union meets to determine its appropriate role in adopting global standards for the industry.

Some countries will push for the ITU to get involved with some portion of Internet governance, “so working through those issues will be very complicated, very important,” he said.

But Mr. Gross, 51, does not appear even remotely frustrated when discussing the issue that recently has overshadowed the positive global effect of the Internet and information technologies.

He marvels at technology’s economic and social benefits, “but what really gets my juices flowing is the fact that there are tremendous political benefits coming to the world from these technologies, and basically, at their core, it’s the free flow of information.”

“I do not believe that it’s an accident that we have more democracies now in the world than ever before, at the same time that information is able to flow more freely,” Mr. Gross said. “More people have access to information than ever before. That access to information helps support and encourage democracies around the world.”

The United States is comfortable with a rapidly changing economy based on technological advancements in an information-driven society, but other nations are moving that way, he said.

Even in China, where the Internet is heavily filtered, “they have hundreds of millions of people who are now getting used to asking questions and wanting information,” Mr. Gross said.

“It’s a challenge,” he continued. “No government is going to do it just because we say they should do it. We have to demonstrate why they should do it.”

John H. Marburger III, science adviser to President Bush, accompanied Mr. Gross to the summit in Tunis and an earlier one in Geneva, where U.S. Internet governance interests were in doubt until hours before the formal meetings began.

But Mr. Gross successfully defended the American position both times, Mr. Marburger said, “and no, he never stops smiling.”

“He never stops working,” Mr. Marburger said. “Every time we walked down a hall together, people stopped him and he would engage them about the issues at hand. Watching him is amazing.”

Before joining the State Department, Mr. Gross was national executive director of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney in 2000, a position he accepted after a 20-year Washington legal career specializing in telecommunications issues.

Bright blue carpeting and furniture decorate his State Department office, but Mr. Gross said the sea-colored environment is purely coincidental with his passion for scuba diving.

“When you’re neutrally buoyant in the water, basically you can fly and that is … just a fabulous sensation,” he said, his brown and gray-speckled beard stretched over yet another grin.

The smile widens even more when he talks about his wife, Betsy, and their 21-year-old son, Robbie, who is in his third year at the University of Pennsylvania, his father’s alma mater.

“I idolize the man because he always seems to find an answer for anything,” Robbie Gross said. “We often talk about how policy affects things like freedom of speech. I’m taking courses about blogs and these are things he’s working on, and I can hear from him from a policy standpoint.”

Mr. Gross said many of his international counterparts have children Robbie’s age, which leads to discussions about how the Internet, cellular phones and other technologies are enabling young people to initiate and maintain global relationships.

“The interpersonal piece is extraordinary and these changes are just occurring, and we’re only starting to understand how that affects everything.” Mr. Gross said. “Is this a great job or what?”

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