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
in Europe 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 strongly opposed by the
Free Software Foundation Europe and many other organisations, projects,
and individuals. Router Freedom is not merely a topic for experts. It
affects all of us.
What are routers and modems?
Routers and modems are equipment (or terminals, according to
European regulations) that our devices (like computers, smartphones,
TV, etc) use to connect with the Internet Service Provider (ISP). While
the modem brings the information in, the router distributes (or
“routes”) it to different devices. Routers share information between
computers, and connect to the internet through a modem. Sometimes a
router and modem are offered by ISP in a same device. However, a router
has no access to the internet without a modem. Routers can handle other
functions too, 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.
Most ISPs in Europe offer a recommended router with the contract for
their clients. In principle that is not bad because then users do not
need to search for a suitable device themselves. However, if consumers
are forced to use this device, this practice can make them totally
dependent and vulnerable to technical and contract changes, which can
result in unfair treatment by the ISPs.
Router Freedom and Net Neutrality
Network neutrality, or net neutrality for short, is the principle
that ISPs have to treat all internet communications equally, and not
discriminate or charge differently, for instance based on user,
content, website, service, type of equipment, or method of
communication. Router Freedom is a fundamental corollary of this idea.
In fact, the freedom of choice of our own equipment is already
guaranteed on the European regulatory framework. The EU's
Open Internet Regulation (Net Neutrality Regulation) grants end
users right to access and distribute the lawful content and services of
their choice via their ISP. The basic rule is: internet traffic shall
be treated without discrimination.
In order to protect this freedom, the article
3(1) of the Net Neutrality Regulation establishes that the
enforcement of the respective open internet rules is task for the
National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) of each European country. They
must check the application of the Regulation’s rules accordingly to the
technical guidelines of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic
However, many ISP across Europe do not comply with the regulation
yet, imposing their own routers to consumers in a clearly contradiction
with the Net Neutrality principle. Their argumentation concerns the
location of the network termination point (NTP), an arbitrary
definition between the limits of the user’s private and ISP’s network
equipment. They introduced a debate to determine whether the NTP would
be located inside the end-user domain, so they can use their own modem
and router, or the NTP would be part of the domain of the network
operator, so end-users cannot use their own router with a private
modem. In this case, the users should use the ISP's router.
Router Freedom in Europe
During the years 2013 and 2016, the FSFE and 9 other civil
organisations conducted a successful campaign for Router
Freedom in Germany that resulted in the adoption of a law obliging all
German ISPs to enable new clients to use alternative modems and routers
to connect to the internet. The FSFE is still monitoring
the implementation, has sent out testing devices to volunteers for them
to check whether their ISPs obey the law, and collected the
However, the awareness for such fundamental topic is still very
low across Europe. Users are not being consciously informed about
the risks of not having the freedom to choose their own equipment. It
is unacceptable to limit Router Freedom on the basis of a arbitrary
definition that only benefits ISPs and subjugates users to a very
unfair and submissive situation.
The map below tracks the implementation of the Network Termination
Point (NTP) of all the EU member states. The location of the NTP
determines the limits of ISP's and users' networks which has a huge
impact on Router Freedom. This map is constantly updated.
Why is Router Freedom important?
Let's put it this way: your whole internet traffic, encryption,
backups, communication, shopping, writings, business interaction, and
so on are transferred through your router. If your router is not free,
your digital freedom is likely to be compromised.
The infringement of the Router Freedom may happen by different
restrictions, such as:
The ISP does not allow the client to use another router, i.e. by
The ISP does not give the client the connection data like username
and password for the PPPoE/VoIP connection (might differ in some
countries but the problem remains the same).
The ISP uses non-standard techniques to connect its clients to the
internet/its infrastructure, i.e. special plugs or proprietary
The ISP requires any router to be registered at their own
infrastructure, i.e. by MAC address or other identification. So the
client is not able to use her own devices because they won't get an IP
address or other necessary data.
These situations show the bad consequences of the lack on Router
Freedom. The reasons to defend and promote Router Freedom concern
ethical and technical elements to our basic needs to internet access,
Freedom of choice: We have the right to choose our
own electronic devices. If customers do not want to use the
ISP-recommended device for any reason, the ISP must respect this
without repercussions for the user.
Privacy and Data Protection: The lack of Router
Freedom compromises our privacy and the security of our most sensitive
Compatibility: Some ISPs impose to users specific
models, forcing them to acquire only compatible hardware. From the
consumer’s and the environment’s point of view this is unfavorable due
to the build up of electronic waste even though the devices would still
Free Competition and Technological Progress: Users
profit from the free competition that guarantees free choice and steady
improvement of products. The lack of competition would, eventually,
come at the cost of the user because (security) features would be
continually reduced and the user-friendliness would drop. This goes
even further: If a user is forced to use a router, the ISP is only one
step apart from supporting only one SIP provider, one cloud storage,
one DynamicDNS provider, or one media streaming platform. The user
cannot use their phones, their trusted online storage or their
hardware, because it is not supported.
Security: The lack of Router Freedom increases the
probability that large parts of the router market is dominated by only
one or a few product families or manufacturers. Then, if major problems
or security holes appear, an enormous number of users will 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 and users are not allowed to perform updates themselves.
You can read more in depth in the Activity
Summary that we have prepared to offer everyone the necessary
information to raise awareness on the importance of protecting Router
ISPs across Europe are imposing their own routers to consumers,
threatening our freedom of choice towards the equipment we use for
Internet connection. ISPs are leveraging the debate on the European
level using questionable definitions about the Network Termination
Point. You can take part in this fundamental campaign to defend our
We already won in Germany and other countries are following the
path. We have learned valuable lessons in the process and compiled them
in a wiki
page, where you can find all necessary information to fight against
the disruption of Router Freedom, and raise the problem within your
community and to your political representatives.
In order to understand the end-users' experience with their Internet
Service Provider regarding Router Freedom, we have create this survey that
will help us follow the status of this right in the European Union.
Your opinion is very important for us, it will take only few
A pan-European survey, run by the Free Software Foundation Europe,
has collected information from more than 1600 end-users and highlighted
several obstacles to Router Freedom, such as lack of freedom of choice,
provider lock-in and promotion of equipment running exclusively
In this issue, you can read about the EU project NGI Zero, LLW, the
FOSS-North conference, and the struggle of Lithuanian students to avoid
using proprietary 2FA. Don't miss our new SFP episode on Device
Neutrality; deepen your knowledge with two interesting articles; enjoy
the latest ‘Ada & Zangemann’ readings; and discover two YH4F projects.
Join us for the 20th episode of the Software Freedom Podcast, where
Bonnie Mehring and Lucas Lasota discuss Device Neutrality and Router
Freedom. They cover the concepts and fundamentals of these
initiatives and explain why end-users should have control over their
In April’s newsletter we discuss EU proposals affecting Free Software: the introduction of liability rules for software and the Interoperable Europe Act. Greece secures Router Freedom but excludes fiber connections.