FSFE calls for digital sustainability in the telecom sector
As a contribution to a consultation organised by the European telecom regulator, BEREC, the FSFE calls for increasing the level of digital sustainability in the telecommunications sector by safeguarding device neutrality and establishing the right to install any software on any device.
Last month BEREC, the European telecommunications regulator, organised a public consultation on a report about the impact of the telecommunications sector on the environment. The report is an initiative to assess and better understand the impact of the digital sector, including electronic communications networks and services, on the environment and to set an outline for BEREC activities in support of environmental sustainability of the sector.
The FSFE took part in the consultation as a civil society stakeholder with years of experience in digital sustainability. Our position offered recommendations that could be further used to improve environmental transparency and data accuracy on the telecom sector’s environmental footprint by developing regulatory frameworks to safeguard and promote software and hardware sustainability. FSFE's position in this consultation was aligned with the publication of the Open Letter "The universal right to install any software on any device", co-signed by more than 45 organisations, demanding the universal right to install any software on any device. Publication of source code of drivers, tools, and interfaces is fundamental for extending devices’ lifespan.
Router Freedom: a sustainability case study for the telecom sector
The FSFE highlighted how it is possible to develop policies for consumer protection which have a significant positive impact on the environment. Our Router Freedom activity is a perfect example of how to enable consumers' rights to choose and use their own internet devices as a close and direct connection with sustainability by mitigating e-waste and increasing the lifespan of terminal equipment.
However, we also raised the point that the current EU regulatory framework negatively impacts sustainability by restricting freedom of terminal equipment. This directly impacts the sustainability of the whole telecom sector. Based on our experience, we encouraged BEREC to consider other regulatory ways directed to software and hardware re-use in telecom markets that would enable sustainable approaches and safeguard end-users' rights. We also called for strict collaboration with national regulators in achieving a favourable regulatory landscape for terminal equipment, including routers and modems, which would positively affect the more efficient use of internet devices and equitable use of public networks.
Free Software, device neutrality and right to repair are important for the environment
The FSFE acknowledged the regulator's initiative to raise concerns on how the telecom sector impacts the environment and recommended including in the agenda for future work the policy principles that can have a profound impact on digital sustainability and consumer protection.
- Software design and Free Software licensing are key to enabling repairability and extending usage lifetimes of electronic devices. Free Software is key to avoiding software obsolescence and protecting end-users' ability to install any program on their devices, thereby reducing e-waste and prolonging the lifespan of devices.
- The universal right to install any software on any device and the publication of source code of drivers, tools, and interfaces are fundamental for extending devices’ lifespans. The right to repair is crucial for extending the lifespan of devices, which directly affects sustainability. Therefore, for the ability to reuse and repurpose resources in a creative and sustainable way, the universal right to install and develop any operating system and software is key. Legal, technical, commercial, or other obstacles to reuse of these devices for any purpose should be discouraged.
- Device Neutrality is necessary for a non-discriminatory environment for digital services and software applications in devices. The sustainability of the telecom sector has much to gain with Device Neutrality, a concept that has been introduced to describe a non-discriminatory IT environment in that all service and software applications are treated equally within the running operating systems, their dominant platforms, and their respective hardware companies by fostering more competition in device markets, consumer choice, and innovation.
FSFE: several initiatives for digital sustainability
The FSFE has been deeply involved in working to protect and enhance freedoms of technology users in Europe and defending the rights of end-users to choose and use terminal equipment for internet connection. In recent years, the FSFE has developed and conducted several initiatives oriented to the sustainability of software and hardware, including technologies with direct impact on the telecommunications sector, for instance:
- The comprehensive study On the Sustainability of Free Software, focused on the analysis of how Free Software impacts the sustainability of IT infrastructures, including policy recommendations for a more sustainable digital society.
- The Router Freedom activity, aimed to protect end-users' rights in regard to terminal equipment and sustainability and competition on router markets.
- The Upcyling Android campaign to overcome software obsolescence and to extend the lifespan of hardware - mainly smartphones - with the help of Free Software.
- The Radio Lockdown Directive initiative, which was intended to safeguard Free Software on radio equipment. It has positive consequences for the environment.
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