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Sites under strain as big hits follow attacks

THE events in the US over the past week have had a phenomenal effect on telephone and online communication, with telcos and ISPs reporting a massive spike in traffic.

And the popularity of the Internet, email and mobile phones has allowed the terrorist attacks to be recorded and discussed in amazing detail.

Local carriers reported their networks handled the congestion without any major incidents last week. Telstra spokesperson Jason Laird said call volumes to the US on Tuesday night were 40 times higher than normal.

“By Wednesday we were looking at three times the normal call levels. But this was partly offset by a decline of business call traffic for the morning, which may have reflected the close of the business day in America,” Mr Laird said.

He said call levels had returned to normal by that evening, while Thursday’s traffic was similar to a busy business day.

Optus said call volumes to the US were up 70 per cent following the terrorist attacks. Neither telco could give separate figures for voice and data calls.

One of Australia’s largest ISPs, OzEmail, had its point-of-presence (POP) servers located in the basement of the World Trade Centre. OzEmail’s spokesperson David Bathur said staff members operating the equipment was safely evacuated from the building. However, New York-based OzEmail customers who wished to use the ISPs global roaming service would be unable to connect to their POP.

Mr Bathur said OzEmail’s network handled the increased web traffic without incident. Network testing showed the lag in accessing websites was mainly due to overloaded servers.

“You’ll find that people or organisations who are sending a lot of emails or hitting the same sites would be responsible for causing delays in reaching their destination,” he said.

Within minutes of the first passenger jet crashing into the World Trade Centre, US news websites cnn.com and msnbc.com carried text and pictures of the event. Soon after, however, the sheer volume of visitors brought the sites to a standstill.

Popular Australian news sites such as ABC Online and News Ltd were quick to post details of the tragedy. ABC redesigned its splash page to allow fast access during the period of high demand, with most links and headlines related to events in the US.

Some news sites tried to alleviate congestion by only posting text and removing pictures and live streaming, which take longer to download. After adding more capacity, many sites carried live streaming and audio feeds from New York.

Many people online used news websites to get information on demand in addition to the television coverage. Indeed, it shows just how far news websites have come since the early 1990s. Once they were simple brochure sites offering only a small portion of the information contained within their offline media, such as television and newspapers, and were updated on a daily basis.

But the coverage of the US terrorist attack on Tuesday night shows how sophisticated news-driven sites have become, with most sites offering a variety of media and downloads within minutes of the first attack.

In Perth, chat rooms were instantly abuzz with discussion of the terrorist attacks as IRC members followed the events on the web and television.

Many WA-based ISPs reported a large increase in email traffic as people tried to contact friends and relatives in the US.

Interestingly, email became the most efficient way of communicating for New Yorkers after the cable and mobile phone systems crashed. Email was originally developed during the Cold War by the US Department of Defence as a means of communicating if the country’s telephone networks were destroyed by a Soviet attack.

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