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Report: The end-user perspective on Router Freedom

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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.

Graphic showing participants' background
This chart illustrates the participants’ background knowledge on topics related to Router Freedom

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:

Graphic with the types of connection and router usage
In this chart of types of connection and router usage can be seen that, although the majority of DSL subscribers use their own routers, those on fiber and coaxial connections are still dependent on ISPs’ equipment

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.

Graphic with participants’ level of agreement on Router Freedom principles.
This chart demonstrates the participants’ level of agreement on Router Freedom principles. More than a simple technical issue, Router Freedom is a policy demand

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.