US Report: The Net proves itself as a mass medium

It may have been a record traffic day on the Internet, but predictions that the Web would be driven to its knees did not come true.

And that suggests that the InterNet's ability to act as a mass market vehicle for entertainment and news has a strong foundation. The InterNet saw a heavy day of traffic Friday, after the release of Special Prosecutor KenNeth Starr's report on President Clinton onto the InterNet.

But while slowdowns occurred on some of the sites offering copies of the 445-page report, those sites and the Net sustained record usage without any serious incident. "The InterNet is designed to handle significant portions of the Network being blown off the map," said a representative of PSINet, a backbone provider in th US. "The amount of data being put across is not going to affect the ability of people to get access to it." The report, initially offered by the Library of Congress and two other government sites, was quickly replicated onto the servers of news organisations and other high-traffic sites, including the online editions of the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and portal sites such as Lycos Inc., Yahoo! Inc. and Excite Inc.

News sites reported double or triple their normal number of visitors, but remained operational all day, although access to the report was often slow.

CNN's Web site estimated it was seeing twice the number of visitors of its previous peak of 1.1 million unique users. The site as a whole received an average of 340,000 hits per minute Friday, surpassing its previous high of 320,000 hits per minute August 31, the day of a large stock market drop. WashingtonPost.com said it was looking to triple its previous largest number of visitors, 3.5 million (the number is not necessarily comparable to CNN's figures).

Yahoo! News, which ran a special section on the report, saw higher traffic than usual, although it did not release figures. "It's been an incredibly seamless and effective day on the InterNet," said Brad Rubin, producer of Yahoo! News. "This has proved the Net is a mature medium, it can handle this type of an event. The InterNet has really shone."

Only one in 10 attempts by InterNet users to get access to the Web site of the House of Representatives succeeded on Friday afternoon after the report was posted, according to Keynote Systems, a Californian firm that monitors the performance of the Network. Once a Web surfer got access, the government servers responded within 15 seconds, Keynote said. Half of all attempts to access top commercial news Web sites succeeded, the firm reported.

To longtime InterNet watchers, the real news about the release of the Starr report was the use of the global Network as the primary means of distributing unfiltered, primary news to millions of Americans. "This is a historic event," said InterNet political consultant Jonah Seiger. "It shows that the Net is making an impact on our nation's democracy." And while reporting on most Washington events is limited to a few hundred journalists working "inside the Beltway," the InterNet posting allowed reporters worldwide to develop their own take, Seiger added. "It levels the playing field when a CNN reporter in Washington gets the report at the same time as the editor of a newspaper in Belchertown, Massachusetts," said Seiger, co-founder of the firm Mindshare InterNet Campaigns.

Lycos said it recorded nearly 2,000 page views of the report every minute, while Excite reported between 2,000 and 3,000 clicks per minute on its link to the report. InterNet backbone providers said that although they carried significantly more traffic than usual, little overall congestion occurred.

Sprint said it was carrying up to 20 percent more traffic than usual, and other backbones reported similar figures. Even though a train derailment in Georgia severed a number of fiber-optic links, including many used to carry InterNet traffic, the Network routed around the damage within 50 milliseconds, according to a Sprint representative.

Reuters contributed to this report

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