German cable operator Unitymedia is entitled to activate a separate Wi-Fi hotspot on its customers’ internet routers without their prior consent.
The German Federal Supreme Court ruled that a right of objection allowing customers to deactivate the function at any time is sufficient to comply with competition law.
In addition, the function is only allowed if the activation of the second Wi-Fi signal does not affect the customers’ own internet access and also does not lead to any other disadvantages, in particular no security and liability risks or additional costs.
In 2016, Unitymedia had informed its customers that a second Wi-Fi hotspot would be activated on the internet router provided by the cable operator and that customers would be given the opportunity to object.
Consumer protection organisation Verbraucherzentale NRW took Unitymedia to court, arguing that the second hotspot was not part of the original contract with the customers. Moreover, the company had to obtain customers’ consent before activating the function. The District Court of Cologne shared the arguments and ruled in favour of the consumer protectors in 2017. Unitymedia took legal action against the decision.
Unitymedia welcomes the High Court ruling which is also significant to other network operators offering similar features. “The Federal Supreme Court has created legal security with today’s judgement and decided in the consumers’ interest,” a Unitymedia spokesman told Broadband TV News, adding that the company’s customers benefit from one of the largest ‘free’ Wi-Fi networks in the three federal states covered by its cable network.
“Technically, the customer’s private Wi-Fi network is strictly separated from the public Wi-Fi service. The contractually agreed performance of the cable connection also remains unaffected, i.e. the bandwidth booked by the customer is not reduced if the second Wi-Fi hotspot is activated,” said the Unitymedia spokesman, adding that customers can decide any time whether they would like to use the function or temporarily or completely deactivate it.
Verbraucherzentrale NRW is disappointed about the court’s decision. “With the increasing interconnection of everyday life not companies, but users should determine how devices and access points work at home,” Chairman Wolfgang Schuldzinski said in Düsseldorf. “Operators should have to convince consumers of the usefulness of their offers and not be allowed to create facts that consumers must actively eliminate.”