Millions hit, millions miss Starr report on Web

President Clinton wasn’t the only one under pressure the last week or so.


Government servers were overwhelmed by the public demand for independent counsel
Kenneth W. Starr’s report on his investigation of President Clinton. Even so,
millions of people still managed to get onto government Web sites to read the report
during the weekend after its release Sept. 11.


House of Representatives sites at http://www.house.gov/icreport
and http://www.house.gov/judiciary/icreport
had 10.2 million hits from Friday, Sept. 11, through Sunday, Sept. 13, said Jason Poblete,
communications director for the House Oversight Committee, which oversaw the report’s
distribution. The two sites normally get about 10 million hits a month, he said.


A Government Printing Office site hosting the 450-page report at http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/icreport
  received 1.4 million hits from the time the report went online at 3:55 p.m. Friday
through the following Sunday, public affairs director Andy Sherman said.


“We had a record number of visitors” on the Library of Congress site at http://thomas.loc.gov/icreport, spokesman Guy
Lamolinara said. On Friday alone, there were 3.9 million hits, compared with 269,000 the
previous Friday, he said.


Even more people reportedly could not reach the government sites posting the document.
Some reports said that 89 percent of attempts on Sept. 11 were unsuccessful.


The event showed that the Internet is far from a mature communications medium. Servers
hosting the four government sites were overwhelmed and had ceased responding hours before
the report’s release. It appeared on a number of news sites an hour or more before
the Library of Congress and GPO received their certified copies on CD-ROM.


But for all its weaknesses, the Internet for the first time gave Congress its own
channel for disseminating information. Within 24 hours of the House’s Sept. 10
decision to make the report public, it was freely available worldwide. And Congress had
final say over the content, not the media.


Before widespread use of the Internet, Congress had to rely on the media to publicize
information it released. Content editing was beyond the government’s control.


Commercial Web sites such as CNN, the Washington Post and DejaNews did account for much
of the public’s access to the Starr report, but the House decision to publish the
unexpurgated version on government sites virtually assured that the private sector would
too.


House members decided to distribute the text to as many online news outlets as possible
to spread the load, and Netscape Communications Corp. volunteered to take some of the
burden off the .gov domain by hosting the report on its portal site at http://home.netscape.com.


The Netscape site has clusters of more than 30 servers on the East and West coasts,
connected by high-bandwidth pipes from Sprint Corp. and MCI Communications Corp.


Some news sites had the report online before GPO and the Library of Congress received
their certified copies because reporters apparently downloaded unauthorized copies from
the House intranet in members’ offices, an Oversight Committee representative said.
Lamolinara noted that some news outlet versions contained errors not found in the
certified versions posted on .gov sites.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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