Like a frustrated commuter at rush hour, consumers increasingly
are running into traffic jams, bottlenecks and other delays when
trying to log onto the touted Internet.
The problem, likened to a "brownout" from overuse of energy on a
hot summer day, is reaching epidemic proportions, many experts say.
Internet gridlock is expected to get worse, too, as
telecommunications giants such as AT&T and Baby Bells such as Pacific
Telesis, US West and Bell Atlantic this year begin offering cheap, or
free, Internet access to the masses. Until now, the market has been
dominated by "mom-and-pop" companies.
California is especially vulnerable because it handles 40 percent
of the nation's Internet traffic.
Unless the log jam is unclogged soon, experts are concerned that
the Internet will go the way of fads such as the Hula-Hoop or pet
rock, at least for consumers. The gridlock also is undermining
efforts by its pioneers, scientists and engineers, to conduct high-
"It is highly likely this year that there will be major outages
that affect hundreds of thousands of people for hours, maybe days,"
said Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet networking technology who
predicted a collapse of the Internet in a recent column in InfoWorld
magazine. "It's too late to avoid collapses; the U.S. Internet is a
house of cards."
He said the Net is most susceptible to gridlock, sabotage and
bugs, but will recover after several scares.
"The Internet is experiencing growing pains," said David Garrison,
chief executive of Netcom On-Line Communication Services Inc. of San
Jose, one of the largest Internet access providers."Being a leader
in the industry, we are certainly impacted by those pains."
Some scientists who regularly use the Internet for research at the
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and other labs, recently
complained about the "disastrous state of the Internet." They cited
"very slow" connections and an often "completely catatonic" network.
Last month, a group of top government officials, known as the
Federal Networking Council, met in Washington to discuss how to fix
the mounting problem.
The backup is caused by too many Internet users on a network that
needs to be upgraded to handle more traffic -- not just e-mail to
your mom but powerful three-dimensional, animated graphics and video
"The growth of the Internet is mind boggling," said Thomas Kalil,
senior director of the White House National Economic Council. "Our
ability to store and process information is also exploding: Today's
$300 video games have more computing power than a $20 million, 1976-
The global computer network, like a labyrinth of Los Angeles
freeway interchanges that crisscross the world, connects nearly 10
million computers, tens of millions of users and more than 100
The Internet has more than 8,000 member networks, up from only 200
in 1985. By some estimates, as many as 20 million people worldwide
may be able to receive e-mail via the Internet -- more than the
entire population of Canada or Australia.
The World Wide Web, the fastest-growing segment of the Internet,
has an estimated 13 million Web sites, and 1 million new ones are
popping up every month, said Allen Weiner, an analyst at Dataquest
Inc., the San Jose research firm. They run the gamut: from corporate
ads to pornography to personal Web pages.
As more people log on, they experience frustrating delays. One
common example: You call up a Web page on the Internet and the screen
freezes while it's being displayed.
Or you can't connect at all and this high-tech `90s busy signal
appears: "The server may not be accepting connections or may be busy.
Try connecting again later."
Some examples of gridlock include:
* During the holiday rush, Netcom experienced a crush of Internet
users, many of them armed with newly bought personal computers. …