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Telecom reform in Austria: consumers must benefit from Router Freedom

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Austria is reforming its telecommunications law to incorporate the new European directives on electronic communications. The Austrian government has now an unique opportunity to leverage router freedom at the legislative level to protect consumers and the market.

It should go without saying that anyone should be able to freely choose and use a router and modem of their choice for Internet connection, like one does with smartphones and other devices. Router Freedom refers to the right that consumers of any Internet Service Provider (ISP) have to choose and use a private modem and router instead of equipment supplied by the ISP. This right is consolidated in the EU by the Net Neutrality Regulation. However, as part of a major reform of the telecommunications sector in Europe (the EECC directive), new rules are being introduced that may have a negative impact on Router Freedom, because they affect the status of routers being considered as terminal equipment.

Like other European countries Austria is in a process of implementing the reform of the telecom sector. The Austrian government has proposed the draft (German) of the new Telecommunications Act (TKG) with provisions affecting the ability consumers have to use their own device to connect to the Internet. Austria has with this reform an unique opportunity to leverage consumers' rights by guaranteeing Router Freedom on the legislative level, fostering an open market.

Router Freedom and consumer rights: a perfect match

Routers and modems are gatekeepers of most online activity. Consumers need to be able to pick a device that allows them to use security and data protection features which fulfil their requirements. Most ISPs only provide a few router models. This raises risks to their consumers' freedom and security. For instance, if major problems or security holes appear, an enormous number of users would be affected at once. The lack of Router Freedom compromises consumers' privacy and the security of most sensitive personal data.

On the other hand, Router Freedom decreases the probability that the router market will be dominated by only one or a few products or manufacturers. Therefore, only with Router Freedom consumers' digital sovereignty is properly assured and the market remains open for all manufacturers.

Router Freedom
Some of the main advantages of Router Freedom.

Router Freedom is in danger

The FSFE and the Austrian organisation epicenter.works urge the Austrian government to include Router Freedom in the telecom law as a standard, consumers' IT-security, privacy and data protection cannot be traded off in favour of ISPs' commercial practices. Router Freedom should be consolidated in the reform text.

As reported by epicenter.works in February 2021 (German), under the draft of the new Austrian TKG, the decision on Router Freedom will be entirely delegated to the national regulatory agency (RTR) instead of consolidating this right in the law text. In extreme cases, this could lead to rules that could completely block consumers' rights to use their own equipment.

Countries like Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have passed laws enforcing Router Freedom in the last few years. More recently, in the context of the EU telecom reform, Greece has preliminary decided on Router Freedom with the regulator proposing it as a standard choice.

How people can help protecting Router Freedom

The engagement from consumers is fundamental for protecting Router Freedom in Austria and the EU. The FSFE has prepared an Activity Package for individuals and organisations who want to communicate with regulators and decision makers of their countries and take a stand for Router Freedom. Besides, we want to know more about consumer experience with Router Freedom in Austria, so we can bring the issues to the attention of decision makers. Please participate in the Router Freedom survey. It will take only a few minutes!

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