Net backbones handle Starr traffic

The Web posting of Kenneth Starr's report causes a significant rise in Internet traffic, but the network shows no signs of buckling.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
The Web posting of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's report caused a significant rise in Internet traffic today, but backbone providers and Internet service providers alike said the network showed no signs of buckling under the pressure.

"I would expect this to be our heaviest usage day in the history of the service," said Richard Gingras, vice president of programming and editor-in-chief of cable broadband Internet service provider @Home.

"It's been a very busy day," echoed Charles Fleckenstein, manager of technology services at Sprint, one of the half dozen nationwide backbone providers. "There's been a tremendous increase of traffic on the backbone."

Fleckenstein said that compared with the numbers one week ago, traffic was up about 9 percent at 5 a.m. PT; 10 percent by 9 a.m.; and 12 percent by 11 a.m. "This will probably peak out at about 20 percent more than last week by the end of the day," he predicted.

PSINet reported similar spikes in traffic over its backbone, another crucial nationwide thoroughfare. PSINet has 38,000 commercial customers, and its wholesale unit supplies such large ISPs as EarthLink, MindSpring, and Microsoft unit WebTV.

Comparing its commercial traffic also to last Friday's results, PSINet found an increase of 4.3 percent at 10 a.m. PT; 5.6 percent at 11 a.m., 7.6 percent at noon; and 10.2 percent at 4 p.m.

"We haven't even gotten to our peak times yet," noted PSINet spokesman Michael Binko. "We'll probably see a continuing progression through the early evening up until about 1 a.m., and tomorrow will increase over a typical Saturday performance."

Backbone providers and ISPs across the board said that the spike in traffic might spell trouble for the individual sites hosting the Starr report, but that the backbones and access providers were well equipped to handle the additional usage.

America Online, whose proprietary online service has experienced high-profile traffic meltdowns in the past, said the today's spike had not adversely affected users' ability to access its service.

"We posted the Starr report today about [noon] today and immediately saw a 30 percent spike," said AOL spokeswoman Ann Brackbill. Users experienced "varying speeds" in accessing AOL, but there were been no major problems, she asserted.

A representative for major backbone provider UUNet characterized it as a "normal" day.

But UUNet's own network status site reported one glitch unrelated to the Starr traffic--one of the company's fiber optic cable was accidentally cut not far from Atlanta.

"Customers may experience latency through the area while we attempt to restore optimum service," the site warned.

Of those people on the Web, 22 percent --or about one out of every five users--were accessing the Starr report or news associated with it, according to NetRatings. The company also said that those accessing the report itself were spending an average of 30 minutes viewing it. That's 30 times the normal one minute that the average user spends looking at the average page, according to NetRatings.

Some ISPs, like @Home, sped the dissemination of the report by hosting it on their own networks.

Another service, DirecPC, automatically downloaded the report to its customers that receive "pushed," or broadcasted, information through a satellite link. The Starr report, along with the White House response, showed up on the DirecPC user interface--with a warning regarding its explicit content.

Even ISPs that did not experience dramatic spikes in usage considered the day a high watermark for the Internet.

"We have not had a dramatic rise in traffic," said Kirsten Kappos of EarthLink. "But this is a breakthrough day in terms of the Internet. You don't have to wait for the newspaper to come in the morning. You don't have to wait for the evening news. You can download the information in real time. This is history."