There are several Net traffic sites around the Web, most of which provide statistics about the performance of the national backbone providers as an experiment or a public service.
On Monday, Internet Status Operation, based in Boston, received a letter from MCI (MCIC) lawyers who contended that the site was publishing "inaccurate" statistics. Unwilling to tangle with the telecommunications giant, site owner Wilbur Sims shut the operation down.
"Basically it was, 'change these stats or shut down the page,' and we weren't about to change the stats, so we shut it down."
-- Site developer, Roddy Richards
NetStat, as the traffic site calls itself, had shown a high rate of packet loss -- which indicates high network congestion -- for MCI for two weeks before the letter arrived.
"Basically it was, 'change these stats or shut down the page' and we weren't about to change the stats, so we shut it down," Richards said.
While the letter, sent by MCI lawyer Diana Winterson, did not threaten any action against NetStat, it stated that the site was breaking the law by spreading "misleading" information about MCI.
"Internet Status Operation's Web site is false and misleading, violating both state and federal statutes... These representations may harm MCI, by injuring its reputation and standing in the Internet community and they interfere with MCI's relationship with its numerous Internet customers," Winterson wrote.
MCI: The issue was methodology
MCI denies that the letter was intended to bully NetStat, saying MCI was responding to a customer who had been confused by the reports on NetStat's site. "MCI's concern was that (NetStat's) methodology was giving inaccurate performance statistics," said MCI's Caroline Rice.
NetStat uses a common method to measure Net congestion: it sends ping packets -- basically status requests -- to the backbone and waits for them to come back. When a network is very congested, the packets may be lost. Sites such as NetStat report the percentage of packets lost.
But MCI argues that, since pings get a lower priority than other types of packets, the method is inaccurate.
Other traffic sites are growing concerned that they might be the next to hear from MCI.
"They haven't contacted me yet, but I'm sure they will," said Jon Stevens, president of Clear Ink Corp., of Walnut Creek, Calif., which runs InternetWeather.com.
Stevens says sites such as his should not come under the scrutiny of heavies like MCI.
"Whatever they say about methodology, sites like ours are a public service," Stevens said. "The page is not meant for Joe Internet User to use it to pick an Internet provider. It's just, here's how the world looks from Clear Ink."
Internet Weather includes disclaimers to that effect on its site. But MCI's Winterson mentioned the absence of "any useful disclosures concerning the limitations of the data presented" in her letter to NetStat.
Richards says he will re-activate NetStat sometime next week.