Millions of cubicle dwellers across the country helped set records for Internet traffic on Tuesday as they watched online video of the inauguration ceremonies — or at least tried to. The overwhelming demand meant that some Web sites and data networks had trouble keeping up, forcing many people to turn to less cutting-edge forms of media.
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“It was really frustrating to have this great technology and still not be able to watch the speech,” said Dan Robinson, who runs the box office at the Julliard School in New York. “I had to use this TV from the early ’80s and some rabbit ears to watch it.”
Internet traffic in the United States hit a record peak at the start of President Obama’s speech as people watched, read about and commented on the inauguration, according to Bill Woodcock, the research director at the Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit organization that analyzes online traffic. The figures surpassed even the high figures on the day President Obama was elected.
“The peak is the highest measured to date, and it appears to be mostly a U.S. phenomenon,” Mr. Woodcock said, adding that it did not appear that global records would be set.
When people are checking for election results or the score for a big game, they tend to produce smaller bursts of traffic spread out over several hours. On Tuesday, everyone wanted to watch video, and that produced bulky streams of data traveling from media companies’ data centers out to people at work and in their homes.
Data from CNN.com captured the uniqueness of the online surge. CNN said it provided more than 21.3 million video streams over a nine-hour span up to midafternoon. That blew past the 5.3 million streams provided during all of Election Day. At its peak, CNN.com fed 1.3 million live streams simultaneously, according to Jennifer Martin, a spokeswoman for the site.
Akamai, which helps companies meet demand for their online offerings, worked with media companies like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Viacom to stream live video. It reported a record-breaking day, feeding up seven million video streams at one time.
While the raw figures look impressive, people unable to access the videos felt less than ecstatic about the state of Internet technology. The snags highlighted one advantage that is still held by old-fashioned television: its viewers are not forced to compete with one another for the right to watch a particular channel.
“I really didn’t get to see any of it,” said Daniel Wild, a Web site editor at the New York University School of Medicine. “Ultimately, I just saw frozen images of sections of what happened.”
CNN tried to assuage those who could not access its live feed by posting a note to visitors saying they were in line to receive a working stream.
“We built capacity for CNN.com Live to handle well above and beyond what was, to our knowledge, the most-viewed live video event in Internet history,” Ms. Martin said.
A spokeswoman for The Times, Stacy Green, said its site served more video viewers than expected, and that there had “not been any major problems.”
The viewing troubles may have been more a result of the limited Internet capacity coming to offices and houses, rather than a lack of overall bandwidth from the media companies, according to Mr. Woodcock. The United States continues to suffer from less-than-robust bandwidth, which Mr. Woodcock attributes to inadequate government attention and limited competition between Internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast. President Obama, in fact, mentioned the issue in the very speech that people were trying to watch.
“We’ve had eight years of stagnation and need to get to work solving problems like this,” Mr. Woodcock said.0