Release of report fails to generate Internet gridlock Powerful servers, quick posting by sites permit easy Web surfer access

The Starr Report

September 12, 1998|By David L. Greene and Michael Stroh | David L. Greene and Michael Stroh,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Staff reporter Rafael Alvarez contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Web surfers who rushed online to get a peek at independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's steamy report to Congress choked official government Web sites yesterday, but the document spread so quickly across the Web that a feared Internet meltdown never materialized.

The 445-page report, with explicit details of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, showed up on Congress' official site at 4: 30 p.m. Even before that, the site was receiving 484 requests for entry per second, and most users were shut out.

"It's kind of like going to the McDonald's drive-through and getting in line behind the guy ordering 27 Big Macs," said Sean Donelan of Data Research Associates Inc. in St. Louis, who oversees the data "pipe" that connects the Library of Congress computers to the Internet.

By late afternoon, most large news organizations, online services and Web search sites had posted the report, and their powerful servers were generally able to handle the increase in traffic.

They generally paired the report with the White House's 73-page official response. That response was also posted on the official White House site (www.whitehouse.gov), although Starr's report was not. (Both are available from The Sun at www.sunspot.net).

CNN Interactive, the cable network's Web site, scooped the government and had a copy of the report available by 2: 45 p.m. Before long, the site had set a record, receiving 400,000 hits per minute -- about 80,000 more than it recorded when the stock market plunged Aug. 31. MSNBC, a joint Web effort by Microsoft Corp. and the NBC television network, also reported its biggest day ever.

When America Online, the nation's largest online service, posted the Starr report shortly before 3 p.m., it reported an immediate 30 percent increase in usage. During the first hour, its subscribers were downloading 1,000 copies per minute.

"We were very busy, and there were people who might have been turned away, but as long as they hit reload, they were able to get onto the site," said CNN spokesman Kerrin Roberts. "We're used to dealing with peaks of traffic from breaking news, whereas the government sites are used to more general usage."

RelevantKnowledge Inc., an Atlanta Internet tracking firm, said the the four government sites that carried the report generated 10 times as much traffic as they did the previous Friday. The company said overall Internet traffic was up 78 percent.

But fears that a stampede for the report would jam the eastern corridor -- blocking attempts by users trying to reach unrelated sites -- were unfounded.

"Most of my sites are coming up in the time they normally do," said William Pugh, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Maryland, as he logged on at 5 p.m. "The Internet as a whole took this real well."

dTC Pugh said the fact that the report was not copyrighted and was quickly released to so many media sites helped keep the Internet from buckling.

Some Web operators jumped on the report as a vehicle to generate traffic and advertising. Hal Meyer, an entrepreneur from New Milford, Conn., registered a Web site called "The Starr Report" 10 days ago, hoping to get an "exclusive" on the document (www.starrreport.com) At least that's how he pitched it to advertisers.

"I got scooped by the government," he lamented.

The report was also popular with pornographic Web sites, including www.whitehouse.com, a long-standing, X-rated spoof of the official White House site.

Other sites hoped to help with interpretation. For example, Court TV provides a complete guide to the legal issues surrounding the investigation and the report itself (www.courttv.com/ casefiles/clintoncrisis/guide.html).

The Starr report, however, did not seem to captivate everybody.

At a cyber cafe in downtown Baltimore, traffic was far lighter than in cyberspace. Josh Darrin, who owns the Strand Cyber Cafe at Lombard and Calvert streets, said he did not see a crush of people crowding his store to cruise the Net yesterday afternoon.

"I hate to say that people have an apathetic attitude toward the news, but they do," said Darrin, as one customer played video blackjack and another wrote a letter to a client.

For those without Internet access -- or who prefer the printed page -- Pocket Books announced that it will print 500,000 paperback copies of the Starr report over the weekend and have them on bookstore shelves by Tuesday for $5.99.

Web sites

The special prosecutors report can be found at the following sites:

Library of Congress: http: //thomas.loc.gov/ICreport/

Government Printing Office: www.access.gpo.gov/ congress/icreport

4 House of Representatives: www.house.gov/icreport

The Baltimore Sun: www.sunspot.net

Yahoo!: http: // report.yahoo.com/ext/ report/

CNN: http: //cnn.com/ starr.report/

America Online: www.aol.com/mynews/ specials/news/starr/report.adp

BBC: news.bbc.co.uk/

New York Times: www.nyt.com

Netscape: home.netscape.com

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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