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Hitting the Net log-on jam

Logging on last month was harder than it's been in half a year--bad news, according to an Internet traffic reporting company.

    Logging on last month was harder than it's been in six months.

    That's the bad news, according to Internet traffic reporting company Inverse. The good news is the reason for high call failure rates: more people were trying to log on to the Net.

    Inverse reports that the rise in traffic can be attributed to holiday shopping and seasonal cold weather. The result is that call failure rates jumped, with the biggest month-to-month rise occurring during the evening hours--6 p.m. to midnight.

    The rates rose from 6.8 percent in October to 8.6 percent in November. The evening hour-high for the year was 10.9 percent in February, and the low was 4.9 percent in August.

    But the other piece of good news is that relative to last year, the Net did quite well. Last November, the evening call rate was 10.5 percent.

    "This is the time of year when the number of dial-in access attempts normally shows an upswing due in part to climate changes--people are simply staying indoors more," said Mike Watters, Inverse's chief executive, in a statement.

    "But while the cold weather factor alone might have been offset by steady infrastructure investments the ISP industry has been making to improve its reliability record, this is the first year we've seen online shopping become a serious mass-market trend," Watters said.

    "This is causing a long 'blip' in the Internet access curve similar to the shorter 'blips' that resulted from isolated events such as the release of the Starr Report and the Clinton Grand Jury video," he added.