Congress' expected decision to release independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report on President Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky today is likely to trigger an electronic feeding frenzy.
Nobody knows if the Internet will be able to handle the demand if Congress votes today to send the 445-page report, chock-full of potentially embarrassing details about sexual encounters between Clinton and Lewinsky, into cyberspace. But there will surely be an information free-for-all.
The House hopes to post the report on the Internet within an hour or two of a House vote, expected shortly before or after noon PDT, on a resolution to make the report public.
AT&T;, U.S. West, Netcom and other Internet service providers said that some of the nation's 55 million Internet users should expect delays.
"Effectively, what this is going to do is generate tens of millions of inquiries . . . and potentially spill over and affect other sites as well," said Robert Flood, senior vice president at ICG Communications Inc., the Colorado-based parent of Netcom, one of the nation's largest Internet service providers.
The Library of Congress is expected to be assigned the responsibility for getting the report online, if Congress gives the green light. Congress announced that the documents, if made available, could be found at these sites:
Many experts said that these Internet sites probably will not attract the kind of computer traffic generated by global events such as the World Cup soccer games, whose Web site was accessed 70 million times on June 30, or by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Mars Explorer mission, which has been seen by 830 million students, scientists and other visitors at 24 computer servers around the world since mid-1997.
That is not to say that there will not be serious congestion.
Experts said that commercial Internet service providers normally take four to six weeks to prepare for an onslaught of visitors to a new Internet site. They expressed concern that today's release could disrupt computer network traffic at government agencies that share the same network as the sites hosting the independent counsel's report.
Congestion will be reduced if Congress simply makes available raw text and places that information on several different computer servers around the country and overseas, experts said.
But if Congress decides to place the report at a handful of sites in Washington, replete with the seal of the independent counsel's office and other complex graphical information such as diagrams of the Oval Office, "then you'll need a lot of bandwidth," Flood said.
America Online, the nation's largest Internet access provider, plans to help alleviate the potential congestion in cyberspace by copying the Starr report to its own network. Other providers probably will follow suit.
With demand for the report expected to be massive, Web surfers would be well advised to read it in the wee hours. Although the Internet is a worldwide medium, it is likely that most interest will be in the United States.
Since the report contains hundreds of pages, the quickest way for Web surfers to find the sections they most want to read will be to use a search engine.
On the other hand, if the demand is huge, the search engines may have difficulty accessing the government's Web sites. Individuals can also simply open the report in their Web browser, hit the "Control" and "F" keys and type in keywords of the sections they seek.