Compulsory Routers


Compulsory Routers is a term which describes the situation that a client of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) is forced to use the router that his provider wants him to use. This compulsion might be created by different restrictions:

  1. The ISP does not allow the client to use another router, i.e. by contract
  2. The ISP does not give the client the connection data like username and password for the PPPoE/VoIP connection (might be different in other countries but the problem remains the same)
  3. The ISP uses non-standard techniques to connect his clients to the internet/his infrastructure, i.e. special plugs or proprietary protocols
  4. The ISP requires any router to be registered at his own infrastructure, i.e. by MAC address or other identification. So the client is not able to use his own devices because they won't get an IP address or something like that

Situation in Germany

The FSFE encountered these problems in Germany. The main problem was the definition of the point where the ISP's infrastructure ends and the user's begins. If the end would be defined as behind the router, the user might not have the right to use his own equipment because it belongs to the ISP and is protected by contract.

The legal situation in Germany was very unclear and some ISPs already established compulsory routers. After three years we were successful: a law has been established which forbids compulsory routers. For more information, please see our news entry and the detailed timeline.

On this subpage we also keep track of the implementation progress in Germany, asking users to provide us with reports whether a switch to an alternative device was successful for their internet contract, and whether they've had any issue with that.

Why is this bad?

Maybe you see the same or similar situation in your country and ask yourself, why this is bad:

  1. No client is able to use his own devices and the products he trusts
  2. No client is able to find out what software and functions work in his own house
  3. No client is able to be sure that his devices work for him and not for the ISP, security agencies, or other instances.
  4. YOUR whole internet traffic, encryption, backups, communication, shopping, writings, business stuff, and so on are transferred through a locked-down, enforced, and intransparent device. If you favour Free Software, a compulsory router is the devil in your own house ;)

Possible Argumentation

This section is about possible arguments against Compulsory Routers. All arguments are derived from the situation in Germany as I don't know the facts in other countries very well.


Competition is one of the the strongest argument because it attacks at a point which is of great interest for IT companies, political actors and so on. It does not sound like a "geek's problem" but like a very important issue (and as we know, it IS important)


Security is another important issue where you can tackle compulsory routers - and maybe the easiest one.

Technical innovation and compatibility

Due to lack of competition and need to produce good routers (because users cannot decide to buy them even if they want to), new technologies are only slowly adapted. If no other competitor supports new technologies, why should anyone focus on supporting them? User can only decide for pricing, not for quality of hardware, even if they wanted to do so.

Technologies for security enhancements like tunneling protocols, or filtering, useful innovations like IPv6, important functions like port forwarding or SIP integration - everything needs years to be adapted by the ISPs' routers because it costs money and no other competitor supports them due to the same reasons.

This goes even further: If a user is forced to use a router, then the ISP is only one step apart from supporting only one SIP provider, one cloud storage, one DynamicDNS provider, one media streaming platform... The user cannot use their phones, their trusted online storage or their hardware, because it's not supported.

This creates even more problems on more levels: economic ("throw-away-society"), environment ("why throwing away a working device?" "why having to use many devices if I could only buy a single one which includes all desired functions?")...


The last, but also very important section for argumentation we used, is freedom: Every human should have the permission to use, study, share and improve his software, because only then he's able to be sure to know what the software does and to improve it, when it does not suits his needs. But in this case, he should not only be able to use the software/router he wants to use, but also to force the ISP to let him do this without losing functionality.

We as the FSFE should not focus on stressing that the user HAS to choose a router: Many people do not want to choose a device, they just want to make "internet working". We should respect that. But we should make sure that the ISP/state does allow every user to have FULL access and souvereignty over the hard- and software that runs in his house. We should be able to install any software on any device, because every user should be able to use the devices he has trust in.

Possible Counterarguments

ISPs and other parties that support compulsory routers (or whatever they call them) may be very creative in finding counterarguments to weaken your position. Here are only some of them as we didn't find any pro compulsory routers statements in the German media so far:

How to stress the topic in media and public

tl;dr: Collect experts, editors and other organisations; set up good communication structures; use blogs and news sites; wait for a good moment to publish the topic; allot enough time for collecting all information; write a press release.

We have to admit: This topic is not very easy to put in the public media agenda. Many people do not care/understand it, but with arguments like competition, security and innovation, you have many other recipients of your message: IT industry, economical politicians, people/organisations interested in security/net neutrality/transparence/privacy.

In Germany, FSFE has started to collect some arguments with external IT professionals: developers of alternative router firmwares or plugins, volunteers interested in networking and even legal experts. This gives you a larger network and more expertise. Consider creating a QuickMailingList for this.

In the next step, we wrote a short public statement on a blog and pushed the topic to some tech magazines and news sites. This creates the first echo and forces the editors to get used to this topic.

Then we answered the questions of our federal network agency (read above). Luckily we had some contact with an editor from't who had more ideas for our larger public statement and gave us some advice how to publish it to produce the largest effect - and it worked out!

Of course, the situation in other countries may be totally different, but it should help you in every case to build up contacts with tech news sites, bloggers, IT specialists, politicians, companies. This gives you the network to spread the message on all levels and to gain experiences and arguments from different sectors and interests.

The most difficult part will be to collect all these informations and put it into a consistent form. Ideally your respective network agency or other instances also call for papers or statements so you don't have to create this topic out of nothing. Contacts in political levels, companies, or other organisations may help you with finding the right time.

In every case you should write a Press Release if you decide to push it to the media. By this, other news sites, news agencies, or newspapers can make a referance to you (i.e. the FSFE) and give them the possibity to cite you without the need to contact you.


Activities/CompulsoryRouters (last edited 2016-07-25 11:53:20 by max.mehl)