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I have something like this in my http.conf file
# AccessFileName: The name of the file to look for in each directory
# for access control information.
<Files ~ "^\.ht">
Deny from all
And I have this in my .htaccess file which is in the root directory chmoded to 666. (for use with trap.pl to trap bad robots )
<Files ~ "^.*$">
allow from all
deny from env=ban
Don't know why it can be viewable in browser.
I have one .htaccess file that is almost 30kB in size, and it does not slow down the server noticeably.
If your .htaccess file is slowing down your server, it would be a good idea to remove it until you can test to find out what is wrong -- usually late at night when your traffic drops off, if it does drop off.