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ISPs prepare for onslaught of Y2K surfers

Internet service providers expect North American Internet usage to surge as the Year 2000 arrives, but midnight Web surfers aren't expected to cause major network problems.

Internet service providers expect a surge in their networks as the Year 2000 arrives in North America but do not anticipate major problems from midnight surfing.

Phone companies are bracing for massive traffic on their networks as curious revelers pick up their telephones at midnight. ISPs say they're likely to attract many of the same people who are expected to log on as the date turns to see if the Internet is working and again to check the news.

Millennium countdown That could cause busy signals and molasses-slow Net connections in some areas, ISPs say. But for the most part, the companies say they're ready.

Some of the early effects on the Internet materialized this morning as the new millennium spread across the globe.

China, Australia and New Zealand suffered from slower than normal Internet service, according to Web traffic monitoring firms. But most countries, particularly those with large scale Internet backbone networks, saw no performance problems as New Year's revelers jumped online to see if Year 2000-related computer problems have crippled the Internet, said Daniel Todd, public services director at Keynote Systems, a company that monitors Internet performance.

Back to Year 2000 Index Page In China and Australia, the time it took for Web pages to load more than doubled for about an hour after midnight, according to Keynote, which is monitoring the Web with 90 computers stationed worldwide.

In China, average response times increased to 8 seconds from about 4 seconds, while the response times for Australian Web sites jumped to 9.1 seconds from 3.6 seconds.

Internet access response times in New Zealand increased to 6.2 seconds from 4.5 seconds. Response times have since returned to normal, according to Keynote.

"We've seen an increase (in Web response time) in some places that don't have a super-strong network infrastructure, and it's probably due to a large number of visitors checking their Internet connections, not Y2K bug problems," Todd said.

Other parts of the world--such as Japan, Hong Kong, Russia and South Korea--saw no slowdown in Internet service as the Year 2000 date changed, he said. North America and Western European countries should face no problems because they have state-of-the-art Internet backbones, he added.

Still, U.S. ISPs and telephone companies are bracing for increased traffic tonight. Some are even asking people to stay off the Web, though they expect no Year 2000-related computer problems.

"It will work," said BellSouth spokeswoman Peg Bernhardt, whose company spent $265 million to avert Y2K-related computer troubles. "We are asking (our ISP customers) the same thing that we are with the phone, and that is to be prudent in their use of the phone system. If you need to use it, use it. But if you don't, leave it open for emergency purposes."

Many telephone companies have cautioned well-wishers against using the phone at midnight. Some analysts have said doing so could create a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which users, not Y2K computer problems, clog the public telephone system.

MindSpring Enterprises, a national ISP, is predicting a traffic jump slightly larger than what might happen after a major storm or holiday such as Christmas, said MindSpring spokesman Ed Hansen. But the company isn't asking people to stay offline. In fact, MindSpring representatives will distribute software at a downtown Atlanta New Year's party this evening.

MindSpring's Hansen said his company is worried more about the "people component"--a surge of customers logging on, or hackers' attacks--than about systems failing due to Y2K-related equipment problems.

"We don't have the resources for all of our customers to log on at the same time," Hansen said.

EarthLink Networks, another large national ISP, says it will have a full complement of technical staff on board tonight to handle any troubles. But the company isn't expecting its networks to be overloaded.

"We expect lower than normal traffic," said Kurt Rahn, an EarthLink spokesman. "But if (a spike) happens, we should be able to accommodate the traffic."