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Belgium commits to Router Freedom

on:

The Belgian telecom regulator BIPT formally introduced Router Freedom. The decision encompasses all network types including fiber (FTTx) and the decision sets a deadline of twelve months for becoming compliant. The FSFE acknowledges this decision as a major win for consumer rights, and will monitor further implementation.

The Belgian regulator BIPT recognised Router Freedom as a key element for Internet connection
The Belgian regulator BIPT recognised Router Freedom as a key element for Internet connection

Router Freedom is the right that customers of any Internet Service Provider (ISP) are able to choose and use a private modem and router instead of equipment provided by the operator. This freedom has direct impact on consumer welfare, device security, and sustainability in the telecom sector. In a decision published on October 2023, the Belgian telecom regulator BIPT formally introduced Router Freedom nation wide, applying this right to all network types, including fiber (FTTx).

In a comprehensive analysis, the regulator confirmed its previous proposal to set the position of the Network Termination Point (NTP) at Point A, meaning that end-users will be able to use routers and modems of their choice. The regulator rebuked the arguments of telecom operators who claim that Router Freedom would have a negative impact on the interoperability and security of the network.

The decision of the BIPT explicitly recognised Router Freedom for fiber networks in the EU. Although other regulators have considered this freedom in general terms for all network types, operators have been pushing for exceptions for fiber in order to push their own optical terminal equipment (ONT) onto consumers. The BIPT dismissed the exception of fiber networks, arguing in favour of the same definition of the NTP for all topologies. ISPs will have twelve months to come infrastructure to come into compliance.

“Since the location of the network connection point at A most promotes innovation and competition in the terminal equipment market, it is appropriate to set the NTP at point A. […] This means that modems and routers are part of the terminal equipment and can therefore be freely selected for broadband and VoIP services”. (translated from Belgian) Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT).

Community support was paramount

TThe BIPT recognised the demands of the FSFE and quoted us in several parts of their analysis, referring inclusively to our monitoring map. A network of supporters, volunteers, and supporting organisations in Belgium empowered the expert contribution of the FSFE to the regulatory process. We relied on the support of the FSFE Benelux team, who proactively monitored and supported communication with the regulator. Besides that, our partners in Italy helped us provide prompt repsonses when the regulator required further input regarding the certification procedures for router interoperability in Italy.

Practical implementation requires proper monitoring

As we point out in our recently published comprehensive survey on Router Freedom, even in countries where Router Freedom is regulated, end-users suffer several hurdles to use their own equipment. Operators contractually prohibit the use of private equipment or impose disproportional disadvantages to users with private routers. The operators often do not inform end-users about access credentials device compatibility with the network and customers often do not receive the same level of service compared to customers who use the operators’ routers.

The FSFE will closely follow up on the implementation and further monitor future developments. We urge the BIPT to do the same and strictly intervene in non-compliant cases.

Further material

The Router Freedom initiative

Router Freedom is the right that customers of any Internet Service Provider (ISP) are able to choose and use a private modem and router instead of equipment provided by the operator. 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.