House plans to beef up its network backbone

House plans to beef up its network backbone

The federal surplus may be shrinking, but members of Congress will soon have an abundance of bandwidth over which to argue about it.

Courtesy of the House Administration Committee, the fiscal 2002 Legislative Branch Bill earmarks more than $3.5 million for a major upgrade of the Campus Data Network, commonly known as the House backbone.

The upgrade from 10-Mbps Ethernet to 100-Mbps Ethernet will be conducted by House systems technicians and will deliver 456 Kbps to each network user.

The boost will help members and their staffs better handle the increased demand placed on the House network, as well as connect Washington offices with voters back home, Capitol Hill officials said.

The committee's chairman, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), and its ranking minority member, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), announced the upgrade last month. 'Because of the increased volume in e-mail, computer calendars and the Web, district staff need a faster connection to Washington, D.C., to do their jobs,' Ney said.

Jim Forbes, communications director for the committee, said House e-mail traffic has quadrupled since 1996.

The biggest benefit of the upgrade 'will be to speed up communications with the district offices. The bottom line of this whole project is to benefit the constituents,' Forbes said.

Hoyer expects the upgrade to be a money saver, in addition to bringing Capitol Hill closer to district offices.

'My staff is testing various inexpensive computer teleconferencing capabilities, which would allow members to converse with staff back home and meet with constituents face to face in cyberspace,' Hoyer said. 'That will save both the member and the constituents cost, time and travel.'

In the coming months, the Administration Committee expects to conclude several studies of ways to improve network speed for congressional district offices.

More to come

The backbone upgrade also paves the way for live webcasts of committee hearings and markups.

The cost of wiring the committee rooms and connecting them to the House backbone will vary, depending on each room's existing network capabilities. For example, the Judiciary Committee already offers live audio feeds of committee business on its Web site. The technology upgrade in the committee's room in the Rayburn House Office Building will cost $139,000.

The most expensive committee room to connect to the backbone belongs to the Ways and Means Committee in the Longworth Building. The bill for wiring and upgrading Ways and Means will be $500,000.

Forbes said the upgrades would not compromise the historic committee rooms. 'They will be done with respect, keeping in mind that each of these rooms is unique,' he said.

Because member offices already are connected to the backbone, their upgrades are slated to cost a relatively modest $180,000 overall.

The boost will include a new firewall to increase the House's security against cyberattacks via the Internet. House Administration is also exploring the use of a virtual private network.

The upgrades will start in the Capitol and in the Cannon House Office Building. After the first session of the 107th Congress adjourns, the project will move to the Longworth, Rayburn and Ford buildings. The House expects to complete the upgrade by February.

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