Quicker network lies in wait for House

The computer network that serves the House of Representatives can get frustratingly slow during peak work hours, has been defaced by hackers, chokes on video feeds and struggles to meet the demands of thousands of employees. But improvements are just a few months away, the House Administration Committee promises.

A 100-megabits/sec Ethernet will replace the existing 10-megabits/sec Ethernet. A new security firewall will be installed in September. And House office buildings and the Capitol are scheduled for rewiring by next winter.

Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) announced that an eight-month overhaul of the Campus Data Network also known as the House Backbone is under way. When complete, congressional office workers should have a much faster and more reliable network, he said.

It's time, said a House staff member.

The current network dates to 1995, when Republicans took control of the House for the first time in decades. At that point, "there was literally no Internet infrastructure," the staff member said. "One of the first things we did was rewire the Capitol. We ran wires through old chimneys things like that. It was significant in its day."

But that day is past.

In the nearly seven years since then, computer use by Congress has exploded. All members of Congress now have Web sites, some hold online town meetings and a growing number of committees are Webcasting hearings. A flood of congressional data, from legislation to the Congressional Record, goes online every day.

The upgrades will improve the network used by House employees, but the public likely will see the improvement indirectly. For example, House members will be able to do more with online video, the staff member said.

The new system "will support faster and more diverse traffic with increased reliability," said Ney, chairman of the Administration Committee. It will enable more reliable communication between House members' offices in Washington, D.C., and their district offices.

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