Video on demand

A camera in the Financial Services Committee's hearing room captures images that can then be cached for on-demand webcasts of the committee's hearings.

Olivier Douliery

Financial Services Committee webcasts live or on demand

With 70 members, the Financial Services Committee is the second largest committee in the House, and public seating in its hearing room is limited.

'It sometimes is difficult for everyone who wants to see hearings,' said webmaster Kim Trimble, who runs the committee's Web site, at financialservices.house.gov.

To ease the crush, the committee feeds video of its hearings to an overflow room in the Rayburn House Office Building. Since June, it has expanded its reach by offering live webcasts of all committee hearings and many subcommittee hearings.

'It ensures everybody gets to see and hear, not just those who get in line first,' Trimble said. 'It's very convenient for people who want to stay in touch. C-SPAN can't cover everything.'

To avoid funding an infrastructure with bandwidth to accommodate spikes in online demand during hearings, the committee uses EdgeSuite Streaming Services from Akamai Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

'We can't stream from Capitol Hill to the world, but anybody who wants to see it can pull the stream from [Akamai's] servers,' Trimble said.

Transparent process

The process is transparent to the viewer. Embedded in the 'view' button on the committee Web site is an Akamai Resource Locator, an address for Akamai's global network of servers.

'As soon as viewers click on that, they are accessing the edge server on our network,' said Charles Scott, director of product marketing for Akamai's streaming services. 'It eliminates much of the need for capacity planning.'

Streaming media from the Financial Services Committee is not an entirely new idea. 'We used to have just an audio service,' Trimble said.

Then video technology improved to the point where it became an attractive alternative for a committee that oversees not just the banking industry, but the securities, insurance and housing industries, the Federal Reserve System, the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other financial regulators.

The committee has its own hearing room camera, operated by crews from the House Radio and Television Office. A server in the Rayburn building, running Microsoft Windows NT, encodes the signal in the Windows Media format, and a T1 link delivers the signal to the Akamai network access point in Washington.

'We shopped around to get the best buy for our money,' Trimble said.

She talked with FedNet, the real-time and archive multimedia service of Federal Networks Inc. of Washington, among others. One attractive feature of Akamai's service was its guarantee of 100 percent uptime, Trimble said. The guarantee is possible through the company's Steady Stream technology, Scott said.

The network access point receives a signal in Windows Media, MPG4, QuickTime or RealPlayer format, and the stream is directed to Akamai's reflector network.

For streaming video, 'we replicate the stream three times' in the reflector network, Scott said. The stream travels by three routes to any of the 12,900 edge servers in the Akamai network, so that packet loss experienced in any one of the streams can be made up by the other two. The process ensures that a complete version of the stream arrives at a requesting server with minimal loss, Scott said.

On-demand video, as opposed to live streaming video, can be cached on edge servers, thereby eliminating the need to replicate a stream to ensure timely delivery.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also use Akamai's EdgeSuite Streaming for live medical updates. The Army's recruiting site, at www.goarmy.com, uses it for on-demand video, and Voice of America, at www.voa.gov, uses it for live and on-demand video.

'We've gotten nothing but positive feedback,' the Financial Services Committee's Trimble said. 'It's very convenient for people who want to stay tuned in.'

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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