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Streaming audio, video creates web congestion

Idaho’s interstates and major highways aren’t the only avenues that have become crowded lately. Congestion on the Idaho Transportation Department’s information highway also is becoming more congested – to the point that users are experiencing reduced access time at work.

Like highways, ITD’s Internet connection has limited capacity, and overuse or inappropriate use at peak times slows down the system, making legitimate uses more difficult and time consuming, explains Forrest Anderson of Information Services (IS).

“One of the issues is that we have a direct link to the Internet through the Department of Administration,” Anderson said. “All users, not just on our system, but also outside the department, compete for the same bandwidth. Heavy use by ITD employees ends up competing with other state employees on the state system. We’re all on the same Internet connection.”

Top five sites accessed
by ITD computers
Feb. 21-27, 2004

1., 124,717
2., 96,323
3. (advertising), 67,164
4., 52,158
5. (America Online), 34,058

Most professional and business use of the Internet can be accommodated without problems, Anderson says. But special applications that provide computer users with constant updates throughout the day – such as regular weather and stock market reports, sports scores and “chatroom” exchanges – tie up a portion of the bandwidth whenever the computer is on.

Many users mistakenly believe they are not accessing the Internet if their web browser is not open. That’s not the case, Anderson emphasizes. Computer programs still can access and retrieve information from the Internet without the browser.

Anderson is especially concerned about the growing trend by ITD computer users to access online radio sites – “streaming” music, sporting events or talk-show programs – via the Internet. The streaming process, which involves capturing digital radio programs, loading them into a “buffer” and replaying them over the computer’s speakers, is a major drain on the available bandwidth.

Even a small number of the estimated 700 computers at Headquarters can clog the digital pipeline to the point it impedes legitimate use if they are streaming audio and video, Anderson said.

IS advises computer users to remove automatic information retrieval programs from their computers, including the voracious “weatherbug” that provides regular updates throughout the day of weather conditions and forecasts. Unless it is used to aid highway maintenance, such weather retrieval probably isn’t necessary.

Anderson reminds ITD employees their use of computers and Internet access is governed by department and state policy. Among other provisions, ITD’s policy says:

“Access to the Internet is a tool for meeting the business needs of the Agency. Internet access is considered state property and the Agency has the right to monitor the use of such property at any time. Therefore, users should not have any expectation of privacy as to their Internet usage via state computers and networks.

“The primary purpose of Internet use is to conduct official business. Employees may occasionally use the Internet for individual, nonpolitical purposes on their personal time, if such use does not violate the terms and conditions of this policy or interfere with state business.

“Users may not download, store, transmit, or display any kind of image or document on any department system that violates federal, state or local laws and regulations.”

Those limitations apply to all ITD computer users, including those in district offices and remote locations.

The following Internet use is strictly prohibited:

  • Viewing or distributing obscene, pornographic, profane or sexually oriented material
  • Violating laws, rules and regulations prohibiting sexual harassment
  • Encouraging the use of controlled substances for criminal or illegal purposes
  • Engaging in any activities for personal gain
  • Obtaining or distributing copyrighted information without permission
  • Obtaining or distributing advertisements for commercial enterprises, including but not limited to: goods, services or property
  • Violating or infringing upon the rights of others
  • Conducting business unauthorized by the department
  • Obtaining or distributing incendiary statements, which might incite violence or describe or promote the use of weapons
  • Obtaining or exchanging proprietary information, trade secrets, or any other privileged, confidential or sensitive information that is not authorized
  • Engaging in any political activity prohibited by law
  • Using the system for any illegal purpose

Anyone who has questions about removing programs that provide automatic information updates, or about general Internet use should contact Anderson at 334-2185.