Contributions to ARCEP work on terminal devices and public consultation

While Replicant is mainly backed by Wolfgang in terms of technical contributions nowadays, Denis and Paul are still active in the project, in other ways.

Over the past few months, we have been working with ARCEP, the independent French governmental agency in charge of regulating telecommunications. The agency is working on evaluating the influence of terminal devices in achieving an open Internet, with a particular focus on mobile device. A first report on this topic was issued at the end of may 2017, based on consultations with various members of the industry as well as non-profits such as FFDN, the federation of non-profit ISPs. This first document presents ARCEP’s approach to the application of EU regulation 2015/2120, that gives users specific rights regarding their choice of terminal devices. It provides an analysis of the various actors involved with terminal devices, making clear distinctions between the hardware, operating system, applications and services.

The EU regulation is however less specific and the articles related to terminals can be interpreted with different scopes:

When accessing the internet, end-users should be free to choose between various types of terminal equipment […].

End-users shall have the right to access and distribute information and content, use and provide applications and services, and use terminal equipment of their choice […].

A narrow understanding would associate the choice of the terminal witch choices made available from the industry, while a broader understanding, that ARCEP is pursuing, also takes in account all the actors involved at every level, including actors from the free software community such as Replicant. This lead the authority to get in touch with us, after members of FFDN kindly put-in a word of recommendation for Replicant.

We attended an initial meeting in Paris in September, where we explained our action at Replicant, the problems we are facing and key elements to shape their understanding. We mentioned that not only the operating system should be considered separately in terms of choice, but also other software components such as the boot software, the privileged execution environment and the modem system, that are also crucial parts of a terminal device that can (and often do) restrict the user.

In November, we attended a workshop with members of the industry, that included Microsoft and Qualcomm among others. We took the occasion to directly question them regarding deliberate choices that are detrimental to users in terms of freedom. It seemed agreed and understood that the ability to load an alternative operating system is a necessity for users and that mistakes were made in the past in that area. However, many of the perspectives presented by the industry were not satisfactory in terms of freedom and privacy/security for end users, especially when it comes to IoT and ISP-provided routers that keep embedding more functionalities. We did not always get answers to our questions, as the representatives that were sitting at the table did not share our technical background and thus sometimes did not fully grasp the reality of the situations at hand.

ARCEP is now organizing a public consultation on the influence of terminal devices on an open Internet, that is presented in a dedicated document. Anyone is welcome to submit a contribution, to share their understanding of what the free choice of terminal devices should entail, either in French or in English. This is an opportunity to send a strong message in favor of free software at all the levels involved in mobile devices: boot software, privileged execution environment (often called TrustZone), operating system, applications and modem system. ARCEP is now organizing a public consultation on the influence of terminal devices on an open Internet, that is presented in a dedicated document. Anyone is welcome to submit a contribution, to share their understanding of what the free choice of terminal devices should entail, either in French or in English. This is an opportunity to send a strong message in favor of free software at all the levels involved in mobile devices: boot software, privileged execution environment (often called TrustZone), operating system, applications and modem system. Replicant will also submit a contribution in this direction, that will be published on the Replicant blog soon.

The consultation is open until the 10th of January 2018 and submissions can be sent to: terminaux@arcep.fr.

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