Zoom traffic is booming, as individuals, companies, government agencies and schools use the video conferencing platform for everything from virtual work meetings, to hosting virtual parties, teaching kindergarteners or even laying off workers.
That surge in traffic for Zoom and other web conferencing providers, such as Cisco’s WebEx, prompted the Federal Communications Commission to issue a waiver for Inteliquent, which carries Zoom and WebEx traffic. Otherwise, the FCC said, Inteliquent would have been deemed an “access-stimulating carrier” under FCC rules, which the agency said would “trigger financial responsibilities—namely significant cost increases—for Inteliquent that would impede its ability to serve these conference calling companies.”
As a result of public health directives on social distancing, the FCC said, the number of people teleworking and attending online classes has “exponentially increased the use of conference calling services while dramatically decreasing the number of telephone calls originating from the premises of business customers. As a result, telecommunications carriers providing service to commercially available conference calling platforms for large, enterprise customers have had to quickly increase capacity to their conference calling customers to accommodate this spike in conference calling and keep the nation connected.”
In September of last year, the FCC had adopted rules that were aimed at high-volume calling service providers and so-called access-stimulating local exchange carriers, which it said were generating “extraordinarily higher volumes of calls” and deliberately routing them inefficiently to rural end offices so that customers paid inflated transport and switching costs. Inteliquent serves as the competitive LEC for Zoom and WebEx, and the rising wave of traffic means that it is “handling vastly greater volumes of terminating traffic than normal,” the company told the FCC, which would likely trigger the company being categorized as an access-stimulating carrier.
Inteliquent requested the waiver on March 17. In its request, it said that based on the increase in conference calling traffic that it had already seen and the capacity requests it was receiving, it “expects traffic to its conference calling provider customers to double in some markets over the next few weeks.” If it had to bear the additional costs of being classified as an access-stimulating carrier, it said, that could impede its ability to serve its customers.
The FCC granted the waiver, but only for traffic to existing Inteliquent customers at the time the waiver was requested.
“This nationwide pandemic has fundamentally changed our daily lives. Americans across the country—me included—have transitioned to teleworking, and their kids have transitioned to remote learning. Inteliquent’s customers enable these things to happen by providing popular conference calling platforms,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “Given the sharp increase in conference calling traffic, we’ve granted a waiver to Inteliquent so it can continue to provide service to these platforms, specifically by avoiding unintended, negative financial consequences under our access arbitrage rules. Those rules targeted companies that have been exploiting our intercarrier compensation system by generating inflated call volumes to pad their bottom lines. They weren’t intended to ensnare companies that, during a national emergency, are experiencing unprecedented call volumes that would push them out of compliance without a waiver.”
The waiver is temporary and is set to expire on June 1, although Inteliquent can seek renewal if necessary.