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[liberationtech] Open letter to EU policy-makerw on sustaining Community Networks

Félix Tréguer ft at
Mon Feb 27 08:27:23 PST 2017

//Apologies for cross-posting - Read online:

Dear all,

After many discussions with many European Community Networks (CNs),
researchers from the netCommons project are happy to present a draft
open letter on "policy recommendations for sustaining Community
Networks". The letter is targeted at European policy-makers, who
recently started working on an overhaul of the telecom regulatory framework.

This letter, drafted in collaboration with several European CNs and
advocacy groups, is meant to offer a collective voice to this growing

*Until March 8th*, we would like to collect signatures from as
many European CNs as possible, as well as other supporting organizations
(from Europe and beyond, be they advocacy groups, research projects,
non-profits, SMEs, local
authorities, etc.).

After this consultation period and the collection of signatures, we
would like to send the letter to members of EU Parliament, national
delegations at the Council of the EU, as well as to key officials from
the EU Commission.

Several outcomes can be expected, including:

- The publication of a joint press release by all signatories to
disseminate the open letter as widely as possible (by the end of March).
- Proposals for amendments reflecting the recommendations of this open
letter, to be sent to key members of the EU Parliament before the first
crucial vote on the Telecoms Package in late April.
- A policy workshop to be organized later this year in Brussels.

Of course, all of these potential outcomes will depend upon the
involvement of signatory organizations, and in particular of the
willingness of CNs to work together.

But first, we are sharing the draft to a wider circle of CNs and other
people interested in their activities for consultation and potential
amendments to the text. Until March 8th, you can read and comment on the
draft letter, offer corrections and suggest changes or additions by
using co-ment, an online tool for collaborative writing: Read and
comment on the open letter.

If and when you agree to sign the letter, *please send the name of your
organization, the country where it is based and its high-resolution logo
at: advocacy at* (note that if your signature is dependent on
the response brought to a specific comment you have made, please be sure
to tag comment as "blocking").



========Text of the open letter==========



We represent European Community Networks, a growing movement of
organizations that operate local communication infrastructures,
sometimes federated at the regional or national levels. These networks,
most of which also provide access to the global Internet, are operated
as a commons. That is, rather than being driven by for-profit motives,
our key focus is on providing connectivity while striving for democratic
governance, social inclusion, education, and human rights with respect
to communication technologies.

Our organizations vary considerably in terms of sizes, types of network
infrastructures and political cultures. Yet, despite this diversity, we
are united by the common objective to build networks that meet the
communication needs of humans (rather than those of objects and
machines), through networks that are built and run by our communities,
for our communities, focused on local empowerment, affordability and

Today, we collectively provide broadband connectivity not only to tens
of thousands of individual European citizens and residents, but also to
organizations including small and medium sized companies, schools,
healthcare centers, social projects and many more. In many cases, we
have out-competed mainstream operators, by providing cheaper and faster
Internet connectivity than incumbent players. Thanks to our
infrastructure and through our various activities, we foster scientific
and engineering experiments, we help local hosting and service providers
come together to mutualise investments and share costs, we support
digital literacy and data sovereignty through workshops and other
educational activities.

Yet, despite our achievements, policy-makers at the national and
European levels have so far mostly neglected our existence and specific
regulatory needs. Worse, regulation is often hampering our initiatives,
making the work of our participants and volunteers harder than it should
be. This is why, as you start working on a European code of electronic
communications, we decided to contact you and voice our ideas and
recommendations regarding the future of the legal and policy framework
regulating our activities.

1. Lifting unnecessary regulatory and financial burdens

We first ask you to review the regulatory framework and get rid of
unnecessary regulatory burdens, such as fees or red-tape that are
unnecessary or illegitimate when imposed on small non-profit entities.
In Belgium for instance, the registration fee that telecom operators
must pay to the NRA is at 676€ for the first registration, plus 557€
every following year (for those whose revenues are below 1M€, which is
the case for many community networks). Even such small fees can hinder
the growth of small networks that efficiently serve tens of households.
In France, Spain and Germany, it is free, which might explain why the
community network movement is much more dynamic in these countries. The
proposed code for electronic communications aims to harmonize procedures
for declaration fees (first registration) as well as administrative
charges (annual fees). EU lawmakers must ensure that the fees and
charges imposed by national NRAs are null or negligible for non-profit
ISPs and micro and small businesses. Likewise, taxes designed for large
corporate firms in the telecom sectors should not apply to smaller,
non-profit operators.

2. Getting rid of third-party liability when sharing Internet access

Several laws seek to prevent the sharing of Internet connections amongst
several users by making people responsible (and potentially liable) for
all communication made through their Wi-Fi connection, and create legal
risks for people sharing their connection. In Germany, rights-holders
have used a "secondary liability" doctrine to chill the growth of the
community networks movement. In France too, copyright law imposes a
secondary liability regime that creates significant legal uncertainty
for people sharing their network connections with other users. The
so-called "mere conduit", inscribed in EU law since 2000 in the
directive on the information society, needs to be guaranteed and
expanded to small-area wireless access points. In the same spirit,
contract clauses that forbid subscribers to share their connections with
others should be prohibited. Promoting a right to share Internet
connections is all the more vital considering the economic and
ecological crises, as well as the rapid increase of populations that
cannot afford access to the Internet. In this context, connection
sharing can play a critical role in fostering a more equitable and
sustainable use of telecommunications infrastructure.

3. Expanding the spectrum commons

It is not just Internet wireless access points that can be shared, but
also the intangible infrastructure on which radio signals travel. Wi-Fi,
as an unlicensed portion of the spectrum and therefore a commons, is a
key asset for community networks willing to set up affordable and
flexible last-mile infrastructure. However, these Wi-Fi frequency bands
are currently very limited. Not only are they getting increasingly
subject to congestion in densely populated areas, they are also exposed
to new technical standards that use the so-called ISM frequency band
(like LTE-U) that hamper the reliability of Wi-Fi communications. Last
but not least, existing frequency bands for Wi-Fi (5,6 Ghz and 2,4 Ghz)
have physical constraints that prevent them for being used for longer
radio links. In the face of such challenges, a new approach to spectrum
policy is needed. Policy-makers should expand unlicensed Wi-Fi bands.
Two other types of frequencies should also be made available either on
an unlicensed (preferred scenario) or, if not possible, based on
affordable and flexible authorization schemes: so-called white spaces in
lower frequencies (which allow for cheap and resilient long-distance
links) and the 12Ghz and the 60Ghz bands (for which radio equipment is
affordable and which can help us build high-bandwidth point-to-point
radio links). Once made accessible to community networks, these
frequency bands will help these networks roll-out and expand cheap and
resilient wireless infrastructures.

4. Updating open-access rules in telecom infrastructures

Networks built with taxpayers money should also be treated as a commons
and, as such, remain free from corporate capture. Today, their
management and exploitation is often delegated by public authorities to
corporate network operators. These entities usually adopt aggressive
pricing schemes designed for incumbent players that make it extremely
costly for small access providers to interconnect with these networks.
Access to these publicly-funded networks for non-profit entities like
community networks as well as small businesses should be guaranteed, at
a reasonable and proportionate cost. Similarly, community networks often
cannot have access to the private local infrastructures of incumbent
players, despite the fact that these are the only way to connect willing
subscribers. Indeed, in many European markets, the deployment of optical
fiber networks is (re)creating monopolistic conditions on local loops
through pricing schemes which preclude small actors from accessing these
private networks. Policy-makers and regulators should ensure that every
area is covered by at least one telecom operator with a so-called
"bitstream" offer affordable for smaller players.

5. Protecting free software and user freedom in radio equipment

In 2014, the European Union adopted Directive 2014/53 on radio
equipment. Although the Directive pursues sound policy goals, it might
actually impair the development of community networks. Indeed, community
networks usually need to replace the software included by the
manufacturer in radio hardware with free and open source software
especially designed to suit their needs, a collective process that
improves security and encourages the recycling of hardware, among other
benefits. Article 3.3 of the said Directive creates legal pressure for
manufacturers of radio devices to ensure the compliance of the software
loaded on these devices with the European regulatory framework. As a
result, there is a strong incentive for manufacturers to lock down their
devices and prevent third-party modifications of the hardware. We
therefore ask policy-makers to provide a general exception for all free
software installed on radio devices by third-parties (the latter being
liable if their software lead to violations of the regulatory
framework), so that users' rights are safeguarded.

6. Abrogating blanket data retention obligations

Community networks strive to safeguard human rights in communication
networks, and in particular the right to privacy and the confidentiality
of communication. While we welcome recent rulings by the Court of
Justice of the European Union holding that indiscriminate retention of
metadata violates the Charter of Fundamental Rights, we are concerned
about several member states' willingness to circumvent these rulings to
protect capabilities for indiscriminate surveillance. As EU lawmakers
start discussing the overhaul of the ePrivacy Directive, we call on them
to oppose any blanket data retention obligations and close existing
loopholes in EU law to ensure that only targeted and limited retention
obligations can be imposed on hosting and access providers.

7. Bringing direct and targeted public support

Countless other policy initiatives can help support community networks
and the associated significant benefits they bring, such as small
grants, crowd-funding and subsidies to help our groups buy servers and
radio equipment, communicate around their initiative, giving them access
to public infrastructures (for instance, the roof of a public building
to install an antenna), but also to support their research on radio
transmission, routing methods, software or encryption. As many local
authorities have found, supporting community networks is a sound policy
option. As EU lawmakers move forward on the WiFi4EU initiative, we would
like to remind you that we have pioneered various models for the
provision of free public access points. We believe that public money
invested in this initiative should primarily go to groups pursuing a
bottom-up logic, seeding local groups that can foster the empowerment
and cohesion of local communities, nurture competition, and meet the
same policy-objectives at a fraction of the cost that would be charged
by mainstream telecom operators.

8. Opening the policy-making process to Community Networks

Although we have often partnered with municipalities and local public
authorities, we ask that national and European regulators pay more
attention to our activities when drafting regulation. Community networks
have both the expertise and legitimacy to take an integral part in
technical and legal debates over broadband policy in which traditional,
commercial ISPs are over-represented. Community networks can bring an
informed view to these debates, allowing for a policy-making process
more attuned to the public interest.

We thank you for your attention and very much look forward to engaging
with you on these important issues,

First signatories (EU-based community networks)


Supporting organizations (advocacy groups, research projects, public
authorities, SMEs, etc.)


For any inquiry regarding this open letter, write to: advocacy at

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