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Router Freedom: regaining sovereignty over your digital equipment

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Par Lucas Lasota

The right of choosing your own modem and router is a basic precondition for a neutral, safe and healthy digital environment. If you cannot control your router, it is not free and your digital freedom is likely to be compromised. For years, the FSFE has been successfully fighting for Router Freedom in Germany. Now the debate has reached the European level with Internet Service Providers imposing their specific routers to customers. The FSFE has prepared an activity package for people and organisations interested in advocating for their freedom of choice.

Router Freedom is the right of customers of any Internet Service Provider (ISP) to choose and use a private modem and router instead of a router that the Internet Service Providers (ISP) forces them to use - for example by contract. Such an enforcement comes with a series of problems because it essentially denies freedom of choice, taking away control of technology from users. In fact, our whole internet traffic, encryption, backups, communication, shopping, writings, business interaction, and so on is transferred through the router. If your router is not free, your digital freedom is likely to be compromised.

In the period between 2013 and 2016, the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has successfully worked for Router Freedom in Germany. ISPs at the time were imposing by contract their equipment to consumers. The FSFE stepped into the public debate with a statement towards the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) and started coordinating with other organisations a campaign to defend and promote the right of equipment choice. Our efforts culminated in the approval of a law, which determined that from August 1st in 2016 onwards, all ISPs in Germany have to enable new clients to use alternative modems and routers to connect to the internet. In 2019, a regional court (level 2 of 4) confirmed Router Freedom (DE), ruling that the ISPs may not compel their customers to choose their own provided router. It is a sign that this basic freedom is understood by German courts.

Router Freedom in Europe

Since 2016, Router Freedom in Europe is protected by the Directive 2015/2120 - the so-called Net Neutrality Directive. Article 5 therein determines that the National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) are responsible for checking the application of the Directive’s rules according to the technical guidelines of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC). The problematic stepping stone for the implementation of Router Freedom in Europe relates to legal and technical aspects around the "Network Termination Point" (NTP) - which establishes where the ISP's infrastructure ends and the user's begins. If the NTP would be defined to extend downstream the router, the user might not have the right to use their own equipment because it belongs to the ISP and would be covered by contract.

Representation of the Network Termination Point
Representation of the Network Termination Point

To counteract this freedom restriction and to protect users' control of technology, the FSFE has started monitoring the status of router freedom in several countries and has been preparing an activity package for people and organisations willing to advocate for router freedom. The package compiles information about how to raise awareness among people, ideas on how to build alliances with organisations, the (counter-)arguments to be used in the discussions, as well how to demand controls and supervision from the National Regulatory Agencies (NRA).

Get active

We encourage you to check out our activity package on how to start organising a strategy for raising awareness among your community and political representatives. With your help, we can track which ISPs comply with the law and which do not, what the bad contract practices are, and how to better refine the Router Freedom panorama in Europe. Therefore, we would like to hear your experiences with ISPs regarding Router Freedom. Please contact us to share your experience, or if you have questions regarding the campaign.

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