Political Expression on the Internet Bumps into Special- Interestgridlock Bandwidth

Article excerpt

You've got mail! Lots and lots of mail.

That is the message United States senators have been hearing lately. E-mail traffic has risen to several times the norm as the Senate hears the impeachment charges against President Clinton. Meanwhile, the Senate's Web site has been hammered - four times as much traffic as normal. The result has been one very backlogged system.

Several media outlets reported last week that Senate e-mail had gone from about 70,000 pieces a day to around 500,000, a figure confirmed by the sergeant-at-arms office, the department responsible for dealing with the Senate's e-mail. This resulted in an e-mail backlog last week that ranged from a few hours to several days. As a result, personnel were encouraged to avoid sending e-mail for critical documents and to rely on faxes and regular delivery services. Automatic responses to e-mails had also been turned off - probably the one good thing the backlogged system accomplished. Officials in the sergeant-at-arms office say they are in the process of upgrading the Senate's ability to deal with the crush of e-mail opinions. So is this the sign that the Internet is finally starting to mature as a vehicle for political expression? Maybe. And maybe not. Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura credits his Web site with being a major part of his surprise victory, although some online pundits have said the governor's claim may be more hype than hope. A recent report issued by the Pew Research Center on Public Policy showed that, along with overall Internet usage growing, many more people looked for election news online in 1998 - 11 million as opposed to 4 million in 1996. …