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United States: Internet Use Climbed During Election

Washington, 8 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Politics and the Internet do go together, or at least it appears as if they do, given the high number of computer users that logged onto their favorite political web site during the U.S. elections on Tuesday.

According to the editors of various web pages, usage was heavy at most political sites throughout the day, peaking in the early and late evening hours.

Margaret Ryan, spokeswoman for popular Internet provider America Online (AOL), told RFE/RL that the number of users logged onto the service on Tuesday was markedly increased from a normal day.

"We were surprised by the high number of users logged on to our service during election day," Ryan said. "We actually experienced a record high number of users at 8:45 in the evening, two hours before our normal peak time."

The Internet is a worldwide network that links computers. Anyone with a home computer and telephone equipment can gain access to it. The World Wide Web, or "web" as its called, is a portion of the Internet that features graphics and sound, as well as text. Millions of computer users the world over connect to the Internet to obtain information on almost any subject.

Ryan said the election day users were concentrated in the news and political sections, trying to get the latest news and information on different political races across the nation.

She also said the AOL election news "chat room" -- a place where computer users come together to exchange messages -- was full and "very active."

Some critics, however, charge that the Internet was too slow in updating election information and cumbersome to use, adding that most people could get the information they needed quicker and more efficiently from television.

Ryan disagreed.

"I think the Internet advantage over watching the television is that users can log on and go straight to the news that interests them," she said. "Maybe it's the presidential election, maybe they are more interested in a state or local race. But that's the beauty of the Internet. They don't have to wait for an anchorman to tell them what they want to know. They can get the information they want, when they want."

Although many Internet providers said they were ready for an increased number of users, several of the WorldWide Web political sites were overloaded, resulting in a slowdown and even traffic jams on the network.

MSNBC, the on-line news service of the American television network NBC and the Microsoft Corporation, said it experienced five times the regular number of users, making them periodically inaccessible to visitors during the evening.

International television station Cable News Network (CNN) had to cease promoting its web site during election coverage because a record number of users flocked to the site, bringing it to a standstill.

The web page of the American newspaper "The New York Times" also reported a record number of visitors during election day and had the additional problem of a computer hacker flooding the site with unauthorized access requests. Many times during the evening, the site was inaccessible.

Yet some advocates say the Internet performed admirably as a primary or a secondary source of election information, demonstrating a potential for even more exciting things to come for the next election.

"We've come a long way since the last presidential election in 1992," Ryan said enthusiastically. "And in four more years, we'll have even more to offer."