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How Finland implemented Router Freedom: the regulator's perspective

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In the context of the telecom reform in the EU, Finland has assured Router Freedom in the country. The FSFE acknowledges this as a major win for end-users' rights. We interviewed Klaus Nieminen, a representative of the Finnish network regulator Traficom, to learn more about this decision.

In the last decade, Finland became renowned for its digital transformation policies, which gave the country the status of having one of the most digitally-oriented populations. In particular, Finland has been praised for its efforts in implementing rules on a legislative level to ensure internet broadband connection for its entire population. The country's internet policies focused on affordability of connection have resulted in Router Freedom. In 2014, Finland established Router Freedom in the country. The law stated that internet service providers (ISPs) should not prevent an end-user from connecting to a public communications network any radio or telecommunications terminal equipment that meets the legal requirements.

In 2020, following the implementation of net neutrality in the country, Traficom, the Finnish national regulatory authority, confirmed Router Freedom. We consider this decision as a major achievement in protecting end-users' rights.

With other EU countries, however, there are still several issues to overcome. As the FSFE has been reporting, the reform of EU telecommunications law with the European Electronic Communications Code (the EECC) has the potential to negatively affect Router Freedom. The transposition of the EECC into national jurisdictions has been complex, imposing challenges for a harmonised approach. In this context, the FSFE asked Traficom how Router Freedom would be regulated after the reform in Finland. Traficom confirmed its commitment to Router Freedom, stating that it will not change the current framework for the ongoing telecom reform. This complies with the demands FSFE has been making to regulators across Europe.

To learn more about this decision and the future of Router Freedom in Finland we interviewed Klaus Nieminen, Traficom's Chief Specialist. We shed light on how regulators should approach Router Freedom from the perspective of end-users' rights, so other countries that are in the process of reforming their telecom law can learn and profit from the Finnish experience and commit themselves to protecting Router Freedom in their jurisdictions.

Klaus Nieminen, Traficom's Chief Specialist.

FSFE: In 2014, Finland introduced Router Freedom as a principle. Will you stick to this principle also in the current reform process? Why does Finland consider Router Freedom important for end-users' rights?

Klaus Nieminen: Router Freedom is a right for end-users. It is also important to enable and foster competition in the telecommunications terminal equipment markets. The Open Internet Regulation (2015/2120 (EU)) states that end-users shall have the right to use terminal equipment of their choice as defined in Commission Directive 2008/63/EC. Providers of internet access services should not impose restrictions on the use of terminal equipment connecting to the network in addition to those imposed by manufacturers or distributors of terminal equipment in accordance with Union law. The rules are stable and we did not see any need to change our position.

Router Freedom is a right for end-users. It is also important to enable and foster competition in the telecommunications terminal equipment markets.

The EU is reforming its telecommunications law with the EECC. Dispositions on the location of the "Network Termination Point" could negatively affect Router Freedom. What is Traficom's approach in regards to Router Freedom and the telecom reform? What is your take on the EU position and are you in touch with other countries on that?

As far as we understand, the use of terminal devices can only be restricted in accordance with the Open Internet Regulation, e.g. when it is necessary for information security or technical compatibility reasons. The end-user's right to choose the terminal device does not apply to those devices which it is, according to an objective assessment, technically necessary to consider part of the telecommunications operator's network. The definition of the fixed network termination point (NTP) location has an impact on whether a piece of equipment at the customer premises is a part of the public network or a part of the terminal equipment and therefore we consider this assessment to be of utmost importance.

Has Traficom detected any "technological necessity" that could potentially limit Router Freedom?

We have studied this question regarding cable modems, and after an objective assessment, Traficom decided that no technological necessity exists to justify limiting end-users' rights to choose their own equipment. In Finland the right to choose terminal equipment has existed for years so it has been more or less traditional that end-users can choose their modem. Therefore I might say that the topic has not been very controversial in our country. We have for example never seen a case where an ISP have argued a CPE router to be part of their network.

Many years ago we had some pre-standard WiMAX networks where the modems needed to be configured for a particular network in a factory and this has been the only case where we have detected a clear technological necessity as only the operator was able to buy a device working in its network.

After an objective assessment, Traficom decided that no technological necessity exists to justify limiting end-users' rights to choose their own equipment. In Finland the right to choose a terminal equipment has existed for years so it has been more or less traditional that end-users can choose their modem.

In your opinion, what could be done to achieve a harmonised approach by identifying "technological necessity" together with other EU members to protect Router Freedom in Europe?

The topic has been discussed by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC). BEREC has issued guidelines to provide guidance to national regulatory authorities (NRAs) on common approaches to the identification of the NTP in different network topologies. It has contributed to the harmonisation of defining the location of NTPs in the EU. BEREC also provides a forum for NRAs to exchange views, which has also contributed towards a harmonised approach. Anyway, it is up to the NRAs to assess the technological necessity and take the decision.

Do ISPs respect Router Freedom in Finland? Do you receive complaints from end-users?

ISPs in Finland have been respecting the rules. End-users can choose their terminal equipment including modems and routers.

Traficom has received only a few complaints from end-users during the past two years. After the investigation, it turned out that the rules have been respected. The cases were related to the modem specific security and interoperability issues as some modems aren't fully compatible with the network service provided and the requirements described by ISPs.

On the other hand, we had to remind our ISPs only once, a few years ago, by imposing a decision against their practices. In the decision Traficom concluded that an operator had violated national legislation and the Open Internet Regulation by prohibiting the user from using a cable modem that meets the requirements laid down by law without legal grounds for the prohibition. Moreover, Traficom considered that the operator could not prohibit in advance the connection to its network of equipment other than those devices it has pre-approved. The operator changed its practices to comply with the decision, and after that no further enforcement actions were needed.

Looking into the future, what is your approach to protect Router Freedom regarding new technologies like 5G and FTTH (fibre to the home)?

Operators normally provide a modem for their 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) subscriptions, but as far as we know, it is not mandatory to use those devices. Therefore end-users can use their own modems and routers. Operators provide an ONT for their FTTH subscriptions, but we have not further studied the possibility to replace the ONT with a different device as there have been no complaints or questions regarding this. For mobile 5G subscriptions, end-users can buy their own modems, tablets and handsets.

Operators normally provide a modem for their 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) subscriptions, but as far as we know, it is not mandatory to use those devices. Therefore end-users can use their own modems and routers.

FSFE: Thank you very much!

The Router Freedom initiative

Router Freedom is the right that end-users of any Internet Service Provider (ISP) have to choose and use a private modem and router instead of equipment that the ISP provides. Since 2013, the Free Software Foundation Europe has been successfully engaged with Router Freedom, promoting end-users' freedom to choose and use their own terminal equipment - first in Germany as a precedent, and now in many European countries. Join us and learn more about the several ways to get involved.

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