Web watchers await report When House releases documents, they will be posted on Internet

September 11, 1998|By David L. Greene and Michael Stroh | David L. Greene and Michael Stroh,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Americans who try to access Kenneth W. Starr's report on the Monica Lewinsky matter via the Internet may well face a traffic jam that could make rush hour on the Jones Falls Expressway seem as placid as an empty beach.

"It will swamp all of the highways to the server, and all the users will get stuck," said Hui Zhang, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who has studied the capacities of Internet Web sites. "The end result is nobody will get anything done."

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this afternoon to make public 445 pages of Starr's report, containing explicit details of President Clinton's intimate relationship with Lewinsky, as well as evidence of possibly impeachable offenses.

While House Democrats argue that the release should be delayed for several days so Clinton's attorneys can review it in advance, Speaker Newt Gingrich said yesterday that the document should be available between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. today at the Library of Congress' Web site, http: //thomas.loc.gov/ icreport.

House officials said the report will be posted at www.house.gov/icreport, and at www.access.gpo.gov/ congress/icreport and www.house.gov/judiciary.

Should too many users flood the Internet in search of the $H document, some computer experts warn, those addresses will likely become overloaded, causing the servers to perform at a glacial pace or crash.

Alternative sources

In anticipation of the logjam, House officials said they are releasing the report to media outlets through a separate secured site and are also making paper copies available to reporters. Soon after the report is released, individuals' nongovernment sites -- such as http: //www.drudgereport.com, which released some of the earliest details of the Lewinsky scandal as well as unsubstantiated rumors -- are also expected to post it.

But those Americans who want their information straight from the government may encounter such familiar and frustrating error messages as "server not responding" or "server may be down."

"I don't think anything can handle the traffic," said Jean Ziemba, administrative director for the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval at the University of Massachusetts, the group that helped develop the Library of Congress Web site. "It will crash, and nobody will be able to see it."

'Battle plan'

Technical staff for "Thomas," the nickname for the Library of Congress' home of legislative information, were scrambling to ready the server for today's expected onslaught. By last night, staff members had tripled the capacity of the line that carries information into the Thomas site.

"I'm writing up a battle plan right now," groaned Sean Donelan, senior network architect at Data Research Associates, the St. Louis company that oversees the connection between Library of Congress computers and the Internet. "I'm kind of hoping for a big hurricane or a nice war to help take some of the heat off the site."

Previous problems

By yesterday afternoon, the Thomas site had already posted a message informing overeager Web surfers that the report would not be available until after today's House vote.

Big news events have brought down Web sites before. Last month, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center's site crumbled under the weight of anxious coast-dwellers looking for the latest information about Hurricane Bonnie. In November, heavy Web traffic and a power outage scuttled attempts by Internet users on both sides of the Atlantic to read the decision by a Massachusetts judge to reduce the sentence of Louise Woodward, the British au pair convicted of manslaughter.

Needed technology lacked

Zhang, after seeing CNN's Web site become oversaturated with users trying to listen to an audio feed of Clinton's Aug. 17 admission of his intimate relationship with Lewinsky, launched a study into how the Internet could be made capable of handling a torrent of hits like those likely to occur today. The necessary technology, he said, is not in place.

Zhang likened a server to a pump that squeezes out information, and likened the network on which it operates to a pipe. Even the strongest pumps and the widest pipes available in the technology field today, Zhang said, can handle only about 100,000 hits a minute. That amounts to just 1 percent of the about 10 million Americans who use the Internet. Zhang would not speculate about how many Americans might try to call up the report today.

Division of report suggested

Lycos, one of the Internet's most powerful search engines, is one of the few sites capable of handling as many as 100,000 hits a minute. Peter Sanderson, who is in charge of keeping the Lycos site traffic-free and accessible, said government technology experts would be wise to divide the Starr report into many separate files, create separate servers to handle the overload of hits, and make the report available on media Web sites as quickly as possible.

Depending on government

He was much more optimistic about Americans being able to access the document, assuming the government takes such steps. "I don't think it will be a problem," Sanderson said. "But it comes down to planning on the part of the government, and how much real knowledge they have of the Internet."

The Thomas site, named for Thomas Jefferson, was launched in January 1995 when Gingrich was pledging that the 104th Congress would offer the public unprecedented access to events on Capitol Hill. The site allows users to track bills and votes and research the history and content of important legislation.

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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