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Proceedings Bring a Flood Of Phone Calls

Impeachment Hearings

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  • By Mike Mills and Eric Pianin
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Saturday, December 12, 1998; Page A16

    The House Judiciary Committee's showdown votes over impeachment yesterday triggered an explosion of calls to the capital that nearly crashed part of the District's phone system and created havoc in hundreds of congressional offices.

    "There has been a marked increase [in calls] since the Judiciary proceedings began airing this week," said Jason I. Poblete, spokesman for the House Oversight Committee.

    A toll-free line set up by People for the American Way, an opponent of impeachment, generated more than 83,000 calls to House members' offices during the past three days, according to the group's spokesman. But the thousands of callers trying to vote in a C-SPAN survey on President Clinton's impeachment hearings were the main source of the phone company's headaches yesterday, according to Bell Atlantic Corp.

    The public affairs cable channel posted three local telephone numbers on its screen at noon yesterday, asking viewers to call in and vote "for," "against" or "undecided" to the question of whether Clinton should be impeached.

    An estimated 15,000 calls to C-SPAN flooded Bell Atlantic's neighborhood phone switching station on E Street SW within a 30-minute period, according to company spokesman Michel Daley. The switch typically handles 45,000 calls during a 24-hour period.

    "Our network was designed with the assumption that everyone who could access the network would not try to access the network simultaneously," Daley said. "The switch wasn't designed to handle that type of load."

    Engineers quickly acted to limit the number of calls going through the switch, resulting in rapid busy signals to most callers during the 30-minute period after the numbers were broadcast, he said. The company was able to reroute only 25 percent of the phone traffic to other switches. C-SPAN should have called Bell Atlantic ahead of time so the phone company could set aside special high-volume lines for the call-in, Daley said.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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