Report: The end-user perspective on Router Freedom
In a comprehensive survey, end-users from all over Europe shared their experience about ISPs’ commercial practices regarding terminal equipment and how Router Freedom is affected.
With more than 1600 responses, this overarching survey (EN) shows how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) still hamper consumer freedom of choice, exercise lock-in over internet equipment and promote proprietary devices, negatively affecting consumer welfare, security, privacy and data protection. Besides, participants showed decisive support for Router Freedom. The wealth of information brought by them provided deep insights on limitations against users trying to connect their own legitimate equipment to the internet.
The telecom sector and end-users
“Is there Router Freedom in Europe?” This question was the starting point for the Router Freedom Survey. The interests of end-users reflect the necessity to enable freedom of terminal equipment in Europe. Since 2013, the Free Software Foundation Europe has been working to make this right a reality in Europe. Router Freedom is understood in a broader context as a crucial element of Device Neutrality, and it requires that network operators should allow end-users to run Free Software on their devices. The Router Freedom survey was part of an initiative for civil society engagement during the national implementation processes of the EU reform of telecommunications law.
The lack of comprehensive research on end-user perspective regarding terminal equipment motivated this two-year project. By 22 March 2023, the survey had gathered 1652 responses from consumers from all over Europe. The survey shed light on how end-users feel towards Router Freedom, their understanding of the importance of this right in the context of Net Neutrality principles, privacy, fair competition and digital sustainability. The survey also collected information about the issues and problems faced by end-users when trying to use their private routers for internet connection.
Router Freedom faces challenges in Europe
This survey serves not only civil society and consumer organisations with primary data on end-user experience, but also regulators and policy makers in their regulatory efforts. Participants’ comments were crucial to understand the hurdles and challenges faced by anyone trying to use their own equipment for internet connection. The main findings of the survey include:
- Limitations to freedom of choice. Some ISPs restrict end-users from connecting their routers, modems and fiber terminal equipment (ONT) to the public network. This is observed more intensively in countries where the position of the Network Termination Point (NTP) is not regulated in a configuration favourable to end-users.
- ISP’s lock-in. Besides limiting freedom of choice, some ISPs impose other restrictions that increase switching costs by end-users, charge for the provided equipment and impose fines when end-users use their own equipment. Lock-in is significantly more notable on fiber networks (FTTH) contracts and in countries where Router Freedom is not regulated.
- Provision of proprietary devices. The routers, modems and optical fiber devices (ONT) provided by ISPs are generally proprietary. End-users cannot inspect their firmware or install an alternative operating system. This is especially problematic with FTTH connections, since in the majority of contracts end-users cannot change the ONT imposed by ISPs.
- Security issues. The lack of Router Freedom generates negative consequences for network security. Some ISPs do not provide security updates for their devices. When end-users cannot manage their own routers, they become more exposed to security flaws.
- Unlawful commercial and technical practices. Even where Router Freedom has been established by legislation, ISPs can still hamper end-users’ ability to choose and use their own routers and modems. Some ISPs make it cumbersome to replace the ISP's equipment, take a long time to provide login data or other access credentials, fail to offer technical support for the network or threaten end-users who use personal routers with contract termination or fines.
Router Freedom as a policy demand
More than a technical issue, freedom of terminal equipment is also a policy demand. All over Europe, end-users have manifested their support for regulatory policies safeguarding the right to choose and use routers and modems. More than 90% of participants agreed Router Freedom is key for net neutrality and open internet, security and data protection, fair competition and digital sustainability. Therefore, the outcome of this survey serves as key insight for policy makers regulating Router Freedom and consumer organisations protecting and promoting the rights of end-users.
Router Freedom and Device Neutrality
Router Freedom is the right of consumers of any Internet Service Provider to choose and use a private modem and router instead of equipment provided by the Internet Service Provider. Device Neutrality protects end-users against discriminatory restrictions on Free Software on their devices. With Router Freedom, end-users can install a customized operating system on their equipment and exercise control over the technology. Please consider becoming a FSFE donor; you will help make possible our long-term commitment and professional dedication to defending people’s rights to control technology.