Router Freedom: Belgium on the right way to protect end-users
The Belgian regulator BIPT has decided to safeguard Router Freedom for all connection types, including optical fiber (FTTx). The FSFE engaged in the public consultation urging policy makers to make this right a reality, and to improve monitoring over ISP practices.
Since 2018, EU countries have been reforming their telecommunications law, passing new rules concerning network infrastructure and internet devices, including authority over routers and modems. This process has been long and fragmented, leading to diverse outcomes that in some cases benefit end-users, but in others represent a serious threat against the right to choose and use personal routers/modems. In November 2022, the Belgian the telecom regulator BIPT drafted a regulatory framework for consolidating Router Freedom in the country. The FSFE welcomed the bold step and urged the policy maker to translate this right into reality by upscaling monitoring over internet service providers’ (ISP) practices against end-users.
Belgian proposal checked all boxes
The FSFE acknowledged BIPT’s regulatory proposal as a solution with a high potential to consolidate Router Freedom for end-users. BIPT plans to set the location of the “network termination point” at Point A for all types of internet connections, including optical fiber. This choice of position translates into Router Freedom, meaning that end-users will be able to choose and use their own equipment. BIPT’s decision represents a benefit for end-users by clearly defining the boundaries of private and public networks – which have direct impact on the provision of internet services.
BIPT delivered a balanced document, providing an in-depth analysis of the technological criteria that the EU legislation allows decision makers to use to limit Router Freedom. The Belgian regulator took an exemplary position confirming FSFE’s longstanding position that no technological reason was identified as a significant threat to the public network’s security or integrity in Belgium or any other country that safeguarded Router Freedom.
The FSFE agrees with the conclusions achieved by BIPT that Router Freedom has not led to a substantial reduction in the quality of service for end-users. We have been monitoring the regulatory panorama in Europe and confirmed that the experiences in Finland, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands serve as positive examples that devices chosen by end-users do not cause damage for network operators or end-users.
Most importantly, BIPT’s position encompasses all fixed network topologies, including optical fiber networks (FTTx), allowing end-users to deploy their own private equipment without the necessity of a media converter or upstream provider modem from ISPs. This is a major win for consumer protection, raising the bar for other countries to follow this example, mostly because other regulators have explicitly decided to exclude Router Freedom from fiber networks.
The FSFE took part in the consultation (EN)(NL), and backed up BIPT’s solution by arguing that for reasons of freedom of choice, privacy and data protection, interoperability, fair competition, and security, end-users must have the possibility to use their own routers/modems. We also demonstrated how Router Freedom is a valuable factor for digital sustainability.
Making Router Freedom a reality
Setting the position of the NTP and allowing end-users to use their routers/modems is not enough for effectively implementing Router Freedom. Based on our experience and the reports we have received over the years from the community, we highlighted to BIPT that more than being a technical issue, freedom of terminal equipment represents a policy demand and requires constant monitoring of ISPs’ commercial practices. End-user reports relate to ISPs’ practices that jeopardize this freedom, especially when:
- Customers are forbidden to use their equipment by contract or ISPs impose disproportional disadvantages to users with private router;
- ISPs do not inform customers about their rights regarding terminal equipment or manipulate users through their customer service in favour of the ISP’s routers;
- ISPs advertise their routers as the only ones compatible with the network, or use non-standard plugs or proprietary protocols;
- ISPs do not provide users the login data to the public network or make no support available to customers.
- ISPs do not offer the same level of service (e.g. IPv6, bandwidth, etc) for customers using their own router.
Community support was key
The FSFE’s engagement in the consultation process was empowered by a network of supporters, volunteers, and supporting organisations in Belgium. Our Router Freedom survey counted valuable insights and feedback from 260 participants (from the 1036 who reported their country of residence). The responses helped us to understand better the issues end-users suffer in relation to their ISPs. Survey responses were especially important for issues regarding fiber networks and the respective optical equipment imposed by network operators. Besides, the FSFE Benelux team proactively fostered exchange with supporting organisations that were sensitive to the cause, providing feedback and dedicating efforts for submitting their position to the regulator, including the industry representative VTKE, the consumer organisation Test Achats, the privacy group Ministry of Privacy, and the network association Neutrinet.
The Router Freedom initiative
Router Freedom is the right that consumers of any ISP have to be able 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 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.