Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Limbaugh Effect: Congressional Phones Overloaded as Rush Puts the Pedal to the Metal

In a nearly unprecedented move in EIB Network history, Rush Limbaugh today threw down the gauntlet and gave out toll free phone numbers for callers to reach Congressional representatives.

Within a matter of minutes, the The office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) sent out a system-wide advisory to member offices in Congress warning them of the dramatic increase in traffic.

From The Hill:

“Our phone system is nearing capacity,” said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the CAO. “It got critical enough whereby we notified all systems’ administrators throughout the House that the phone systems are overloading.”

At the top of Limbaugh’s website are toll-free and local phone numbers for the Capitol operator, plus the message: “Call the Capitol Switchboard,” followed by “Code Red: Click Here for List of Targeted Congressmen.”

While Ventura said the CAO didn’t have specific numbers of how many calls the House was receiving, he did say that it would have to be “an extraordinary volume” in order for it to clog the system.

Ventura said the surge in calls, which results in occasional busy signals for callers, is likely to persist throughout the week.

[...]Ventura added there’s not much that can be done to alleviate the busy signals and advised callers to keep calling until they get through.

“Unlike computers, which can be scaled to accommodate something like this in real time, phone lines are hard-wired, so you have your capacity and once the capacity is full, you’re going to get the good old-fashioned busy signal,” he said. “And that’s what’s happening.”

A similar deluge of communications from voters came in 2008 when the House had to limit the number of e-mails being sent to lawmakers on the financial bailout bill in order to prevent House websites from crashing.

Michael Calderone at Politico.com discussed the rarity of Limbaugh's use of his show for such purpose:

Despite having the largest talk radio audience in the country, Limbaugh typically doesn't use his show to mobilize listeners for coordinated political action.

The last time Limbaugh gave out the Capitol's switchboard number on air, he said, was when Steve Roberts was writing a profile of him in the 1990's for U.S. News & World Report. Limbaugh said that Roberts "was of the belief -- like so many people believed back then -- that all I was doing was giving out phone numbers of members of Congress and switchboards in Washington."

"And he asked me why I did this," Limbaugh recalled. "I don't do it. I'm the one that doesn't do it. I don't use my show for activism. I said, 'If I did it, I would shut the place down. So I'll demonstrate it for you."

Limbaugh said he didn't remember what the issue was about, but to prove his point, he gave out the number and the switchboard was quickly tied up.

"The same thing happened today at the two toll-free numbers I gave," Limbaugh said. "Those numbers have now -- you don't even get a recording at them now. They're invalidated. Nothing happens. So we had to give out the toll-free and the toll-call numbers."

Rush discussed the events on air as they transpired:

And welcome back, Rush Limbaugh and the EIB Network. The House of Representatives, I guess Congress in general, has put out a System Advisory saying: "House telephone circuits have neared capacity." This explains why nobody can get through their busy signals. The actual message: "Due to the high volume of external calls, House telephone circuits are near capacity, resulting in outside callers getting busy signals. If you have any questions, please call the technology call center," and there's an 800 number here. (877-762-8762) (laughs) So... (interruption) No, no, no, I don't want to give that number out. But people are writing me and saying, "We can't get through." I know we can't get through. That's the whole point! Just keep trying. Nobody else can get through either. Now, I don't doubt that a lot of members have their phones turned off and they have their mailboxes full.

Rush, you are the man.

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