Compulsory routers

It should go without saying that in our society we should be able to freely choose technical devices for use in our homes like we are free to choose what mobile phone we buy. But some Internet service providers dishonor this principle by dictating which device their customers have to use in order to connect to the internet or they discriminate against the owners of alternative devices. This undermining of our basic freedom of choice is called “compulsory routers” and is being strongly criticised by the Free Software Foundation Europe and many other organisations, projects and individuals. Compulsory routers is not merely a topic for experts. It affects all of us.

What are routers, and what sort of compulsion?

Routers are devices that handle other functions besides connecting to the internet, for instance WiFi, Voice over IP (VoIP), and TV streaming, and also technical details such as port forwarding, dynamic DNS, or VPN tunneling. Normally, all internet-based communication passes through routers.

ISPs such as Telekom, Vodafone, Kabeldeutschland, and many others in Germany, often offer a recommended router with the contract. In principle that is not bad because then users do not need to go searching for a suitable device themselves. On the other hand there must always be the option of deciding for a device oneself without having to be dependant on the goodwill of the ISP. Why is this so important? There are several reasons, some of a general and others of a technical nature.

  1. Trust and Preferences: Every person has different preferences when it comes to the selection of electronic devices. An ISP should not set itself over this freedom of decision. If customers do not want to use the ISP-recommended device for any reason, the ISP must respect this without repercussions for the user.
  2. Privacy and Data Protection: Dozens of times, standard routers from ISPs have been known to have security flaws or be victims of backdoors that allowed intelligence agencies and criminals to access the infrastructure behind the device. Customers thus need the freedom to choose a device or manufacturer that they trust in. In opposition to this, compulsory routers destroy the already damaged trust in new technologies.
  3. Free Competition and Technological Progress: Users profit from the free competition that guarantees free choice and steady improvement of products. Should, however, more and more ISPs force the usage of compulsory routers, smaller router manufacturers would be at a disadvantage because almost no one could use their devices. In this way, small and alternative manufacturers would no longer be able to stay on the market. This would, eventually,come at the cost of the user because (security) features would be be continually reduced and the user-friendliness would drop.
  4. Compatibility: Nowadays, the diversity of technical devices is huge. In principle this is a good thing because we can freely choose the products which are most appealing. Unfortunately there are, for instance, routers to which only certain telephones may be connected. Users need to purchase new hardware solely because of the unwillingness of the internet service providers. From the consumer’s and the environment’s point of view this is unfavourable due to the build up of electronic waste even though the devices would still work..
  5. Security Concerns from Monocultures and Lacking Updates: Security experts are already worried about the growing number of technical monocultures. These come about when a large percentage of a technological sector is dominated by only one product family or manufacturer. Then, if major problems or security holes appear, an enormous number of users are affected at once. Most ISPs only use a few router models and thus endanger the security of their customers.

    That is particularly problematic when manufacturers and providers are very slow in the delivery of critical updates. Often it is not possible for compulsory router customers to perform updates themselves, although they may already be available from the router manufacturer. Thus, customers are incapacitated with regard to their security.

FSFE Newsletter - September 2018

19 September 2018

On September 12, the European Parliament rejected the mandate to fast-track the controversial legislation intended to reform online copyright. After its previous rejection in July, they voted again on this package – and this time it was adopted. However, with amendment 143 and 150 of the current copyright reform proposal, we now have at least a limited exclusion for “open source software developing platforms (..) within the meaning of this Directive”. (consolidated document)

Compulsory Routers: what customers have to take care of now

25 July 2016

Up until now, Internet service providers (ISPs) in Germany determined the router users had to use to connect to the Internet. The user had no say in this decision. This changes on August 1. A new law will allow users choose the device that gets installed in their homes. The FSFE wants to ensure everybody knows about their new rights and is asking users to report cases in which ISPs try to avoid the new regulation.

Erfolg gegen Routerzwang: Gesetz für Endgerätefreiheit verabschiedet

05 November 2015

Nach fast drei Jahren intensiver Arbeit der Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) und vieler anderer Organisationen wurde am heutigen Donnerstag das Gesetz „zur Auswahl und zum Anschluss von Telekommunikationsendgeräten“ vom Deutschen Bundestag beschlossen. Die FSFE begrüßt das neue Gesetz, da es effektiv den Routerzwang für ungültig erklärt und endlich Endgerätefreiheit für Anlagen wie Modems und Router herstellt.

FSFE signs association joint letter for terminal device freedom

28 October 2015

Together with 9 other civil and economic organisations the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) sent a letter to numerous members of the German Bundestag concerning the compulsory routers issue at the present Wednesday. The letter is supposed to highlight the importance of passing the bill for freedom of terminal devices in telecommunication.

The long road from compulsory routers to freedom of choice

02 September 2015

The router. Despite often being dusty it is one of the most important devices needed for using the internet or phones. However: Most users in Germany don’t own this device even though it is located inside their homes and they pay for it.

Transparenzverordnung: Bundesnetzagentur legitimiert Zwangsrouter

29 September 2014

Die Free Software Foundation Europe sieht den aktuellen Entwurf der "Transparenzverordnung" der Bundesnetzagentur als Legitimierung einer Entmündigung von Verbrauchern.