Bailout Bill Overwhelmes House Internet Servers

Debate over -- and opposition to -- the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 has caused such a huge amount of internet traffic to the House of Representatives' "Write Your Representative" feature  this week, the Chief Administrative Officer of the House has been forced to install an electronic traffic cop in the program to tell letter-writers to come back later.

"The House of Representatives is currently experiencing an extraordinarily high amount of email traffic," it reads. "The Write Your Representative function is therefore intermittently available. While we realize communicating to your Members of Congress is critical, we suggest attempting to do so at a later time, when demand is not so high. System engineers are working to resolve this issue and we appreciate your patience."

Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer for the House of Representatives, tells ABC News that starting Sunday night, when the draft bill of the compromise legislation on the $700 billion bailout bill was posted on line, "immediately we saw a degradation in service."

Normally, Ventura says, "a bill sits out there in the public sphere for awhile. Here there was a limited amount of time for folks to see the legislation."

On Monday, the day of the vote, the House servers "saw a tremendous slowdown in service," Ventura says.

Part of that was people looking at the vote count, but there was also "an extraordinary number of folks going to this application 'Write Your Representative.'"

What is "extraordinary"?

"Millions," Ventura says. "We haven't done a statistical bean counting. That's a bit like looking at a tidal wave, sitting there trying to count the number of drops of in the water before it hits you."

It wasn't just the Write Your Representative feature that was impacted, it was House.gov, the websites of individual members if Congress, the websites of House Committees. "Once the vote hit, users who went to House.gov experienced an incredible slowness or a blank page," Ventura says.

The site did not crash. "That's like saying a phone line is dead when all you're getting is a busy signal," says Ventura.

Last night the Chief Administrative Office had an emergency meeting with technical and computer engineers. They monitored the situation over night, and then again at 6 am this morning. But even at sunrise, "server activity was still off the charts."

The decision was made to add what Ventura calls a "traffic cop," allowing some folks to use the "Write Your Representative" feature, but not enough so as to put the rest of the House server in peril.

Ventura agrees that the House server will have to be upgraded to get accustomed to this level of high traffic. "If this is sort of your barometer of what a landmark legislative event is, clearly you want to scale up to that level," he says, "probably in the not-too-distant future."

- jpt

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