Router Freedom at risk: Latvia allows restrictions to consumers' rights
Latvia's reform of the telecom law weakens Router Freedom in the country. The national regulator, SPRK, has allowed ISPs to restrict the use of personal routers on the grounds of "technological necessity". We explain why this is problematic and what impact it can have for end-users' rights.
Router Freedom is the right end-users have to choose and use their own modems and routers to connect to the Internet. Since 2020, European countries have been in a process of implementing this right within a reform of EU telecommunications law. In this context, Latvia has created a risky precedent against end-users' rights by allowing internet service providers (ISPs) to determine restrictions on the use of personal routers and modems based on "technological necessities". The FSFE has engaged with the Latvian regulator, SPRK, to stress the necessity to change the law as it represents a big loss for consumer rights.
What are "technological necessities" against Router Freedom?
Routers and modems are terminal equipment. They are located in the region where the ISP's and end-user's networks meet. In order to determine which network the router should be part of, the reform of the telecom law has focused on localization of the network termination point (the NTP). The European regulator BEREC has identified three positions, called points A, B, and C (see picture below) where routers and modems could be considered as part of the end-user domain or part of the public network. The standard position should be point A. This means that the router and modem are under the control of the user, who can decide which device to use - either the one recommended and provided by the ISP or one from a third party. Position A would result in Router Freedom.
However, BEREC has allowed the national regulators to identify any justifiable technological necessity to set the NTP at positions B or C, considerably limiting Router Freedom. The assessment criteria for such necessities include:
- Interoperability between the public network and the terminal equipment;
- Simplicity of operation;
- Network security;
- Data protection;
- Local traffic;
- Fixed-line services based on wireless technology.
The FSFE has been advocating that Router Freedom is the only way to safeguard end-users' interests and comply with EU legislation. The European experience has demonstrated that no such necessities were identified by the regulators. The allowance of discretionary power to set the NTP at three different positions can impose significant barriers to end-users' effectively using their equipment. Such criteria open a dangerous precedent for discretionary and unfair measures against Router Freedom. ISPs' political and economic influence could easily override the high thresholds for these necessities in order to shift the router or modem out of end-users' domain. Moreover, when national regulators provide little information on how such necessities were identified, proving them wrong becomes excessively hard.
Latvia allows ISPs to determine technological necessity
The FSFE stressed to SPRK how this decision could not be compliant with EU law and could seriously hamper end-users' rights. We argued that the best way to achieve compliance with the BEREC guidelines would be the regulator determining by itself any precondition to the public infrastructure related to terminal equipment that would justify Positions B or C (see picture above). We emphasised that ISPs should not establish the criteria by themselves. However, in response, the authority affirmed (Latvian) that they will check whether necessities identified by the ISPs would be compliant with BEREC guidelines, and approve them or not.
We at FSFE understand that such workflow would create a layer of opacity and difficulty for consumers who could have their rights held up until a decision by the regulator would be taken on specifics of the necessity criteria. In the end, ISPs would have much greater liberty in creating situations where such necessities would be easy to prove and hard to counter, although other EU countries have not found any evidence in favour of them.
What can Latvian consumers do?
The new regulations make it very hard for consumers to counteract when their ISPs limit Router Freedom on the ground of a technological necessity. Unfortunately, the regulator has chosen not to acquiesce in our demands by allowing ISPs to create by themselves arguments against Router Freedom. Nevertheless the regulator has at least imposed on ISPs the duty to publish on their websites information about the alleged necessity, so consumers have access to this information, and the authority can perform an assessment and make a final decision.
To help us monitoring the future developments in the country, Latvian consumers are encouraged to report their experience in our Router Freedom survey. This will enable us to check what ISPs have listed as arguments and which rulings the Latvian regulator has made against Router Freedom. By comparing with what other EU countries have implemented, we can escalate the issue to BEREC and substantiate a request for reviewing this framework. Countries like Finland and the Netherlands successfully implemented Router Freedom without listing any restriction based on technological necessities. Besides, a fragmented terminal equipment market plays against the interests of end-users and European router manufacturers. Such a disparity in determining a basic right can be brought to the European Commission's attention when performing a fit for purpose check on the national legislation.
The Router Freedom initiative
Router Freedom is the right that consumers 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 in many European countries. Join us and learn more about the several ways to get involved. Please consider becoming a FSFE donor; you help make possible our long-term engagement and professional commitment in defending people's rights to control technology.