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Belgian court’s decision impacts the future of Router Freedom


In an historic ruling within the EU, a Belgian court has upheld the decision of the country’s regulator to introduce Router Freedom for fiber networks. The objections, raised by a local internet service provider, were deemed unfounded. This landmark decision represents a significant victory for consumer rights, and we urge other national regulators to follow this example.

Illustration showing a network termination point, consisting in the end-user private network, a router, and the public communication network, the access to the Internet, which is the domain of the ISP

Internet services providers (ISPs) have been pushing back in different ways to limit the ability of end-users to choose and use their own routers for internet connection. After a thorough regulatory process which officially confirmed Router Freedom in Belgium, the local ISP Orange contested the decision of the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT) alleging lack of proportionality. Although past court cases in other countries have been decided in favour of end-users, the Orange vs the BIPT case represents an important victory for Router Freedom: this is the first time a court refers to fiber networks from the perspective of the regulatory framework established by the 2020 reform of the telecommunications law in Europe.

Orange’s allegations rebutted by the court

In September 2023, the BIPT, following the BEREC guidelines, defined the position of the “network termination point“. This means that routers, modems and optical network terminals (ONT) would not be part of the ISPs’ infrastructure, opening up the possibility for freedom of choice in the equipment market. The regulatory decision encompassed fiber networks, following by a comprehensive technical, economical and legal analysis conducted by the regulator.

Graphic showing a square and inside it an image of a laptop with three points- A, B and C. Point C is the laptop while point B is the point between the laptop and the router, and point B to A is the point from the router to the modem.
Orange questioned the Belgian regulator decision’s regarding the position of the NTP, which introduced Router Freedom in the country. Source: BEREC

Soon after the publication of the decision, Orange started litigation at the Market Court in Brussels against the regulator, listing a long list of arguments against the decision:

The court dismissed all Orange’s arguments as unfounded, confirming the BIPT’s decision to introduce Router Freedom in Belgium by defining the position of the NTP at Point A. The court ruled that:

The FSFE emphasises the importance of this ruling as the court has not only clarified the procedural aspects, but confirmed the Belgian regulator's diligence in analysing all the market, technical and sustainability aspects concerning Router Freedom. It should be highlighted that the court reaffirmed the BIPT’s conclusion that no technological necessity to limit Router Freedom in fiber networks was found. This resonates with FSFE’s demands that ISPs’ commercial interests should not prevail over consumer rights. This ruling should serve as an precedent for other EU member states who have argued the existence of such technological constraints in fiber networks.


The future of Router Freedom is under attack, help us safeguarding it

For many years ISPs have been pushing back in different manners to limit the ability of end-users to choose and use their own routers for internet connection. Their lobbying power has been intense against Router Freedom in fiber networks. Countries like Austria and Latvia have prioritized operators’ interests by not safeguarding end-users’ freedom of routers, while others like Greece and Croatia have promoted a compromise by allowing Router Freedom in DSL and coax but excluding fiber. Particularly concerning are countries, like Germany, which have positively decided in the past in favour of Router Freedom but are facing pressure from ISPs to exclude fiber networks.

The FSFE is the only civil-society organisation that systematically monitors and advocates in favour of Router Freedom across Europe. We have intervened in key regulatory processes, and articulated alliances and coalitions with local digital rights groups, industry representatives and consumer protection organisations. We have participated in dozens of conferences and events in Europe, and have been quoted by the media, think tanks and academics.

Most importantly, we are aiming at the future. Our advocacy does not expire in the short term. We are committed to Device Neutrality as we believe everyone should be able to bypass gatekeepers – these small or large corporations blocking their rights – to run Free Software on their devices. For example, while Apple is hampering software freedom on smartphones, ISPs prohibit subscribers to have their own routers running Free Software operating systems.

An open, healthy and neutral Internet needs Router Freedom, as this freedom refers to the hardware layer of Net Neutrality. Indeed, Router Freedom was considered a top priority by a study on the future of the Net Neutrality Regulation commissioned by the EC last year. The study cited the FSFE in several parts.

New challenges are appearing in the horizon. Next year the EU will assess its telecom legislation that tasked BEREC to develop the guidelines on the NTP. In parallel, as the importance of satellite networks grows, it is not clear how regulators will react to lack of freedom of choice among proprietary devices.

Router Freedom is key for an open and neutral Internet. We have achieved so much in the last five years balancing the power of ISPs to promote software freedom in routers and modems! Your support is vital for our advocacy and policy engagement in favour of your right to choose and use your own router. Please become an FSFE supporter today and help us keep our independence!

A big shout out for the FSFE Benelux Team for the amazing work in translating the lengthy and complex court decision!