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Vox Populi Strains Congress' Phone Lines, Websites

Americans are evidently responding to President Obama's request Monday evening that they contact their lawmakers.

Congress' phone lines and web sites were jammed Tuesday, becoming unavailable for many who tried to communicate with Capitol Hill.

Congress' call center sent the following email across Capitol Hill:

Due to the high volume of external calls, House telephone circuits serving 202-225-XXXX phone numbers are near capacity resulting in outside callers occasionally getting busy signals. Outbound calls are unaffected.

Also, more than 140 congressional websites were affected after the speech, both Republican and Democratic sites, according to a congressional aide.

Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner's web site was down for most of the night, too, the aide said.

The Senate Sergeant at Arms sent the following information to Senate offices:

Last night immediately after the speeches, we saw a tremendous increase in traffic to . These peak loads resulted in many constituents experiencing timeouts and "server not found" errors when trying to load Senate websites. These errors were primarily due to the need to build each page every time it was requested due to the lack of caching. During the event (from about 9:45PM to 11:30PM), we did whatever we could to tweak server configurations, move databases, and work with vendors to provide more caching, in an attempt to make the sites as accessible as possible. By 11:30PM, the individual sites on were responding better.

We are again experiencing peak loads today and many sites are sluggish and may at times receive errors. We are continuing to monitor and take all the actions we can control to keep operational. We are directing the website vendors to implement caching on webpages, as this is the most effective means of making sure your constituents can reach your site without errors. Repeated queries to the databases for the same information are by far the largest source of traffic. Caching queries and webpages will result in some small delay between when you post new information and when it is available to be viewed, but doing so will enhance the performance of your site and enable your constituents to have the experience you desire

Some appeared to see darker purposes behind the web site issues. One commenter to a post on the website wrote:

The fact that so many congressional websites were down at the moment the President called for the people to comment is a continuation of the problem. Our country is being sabotaged in more ways than one.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.