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North Idaho internet provider blocking Facebook, Twitter upon request over censorship claims

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 11, 2021

A North Idaho internet service provider is offering to block Twitter and Facebook for its customers upon request.  (STF)
A North Idaho internet service provider is offering to block Twitter and Facebook for its customers upon request. (STF)

A North Idaho internet service provider is blocking access to Facebook and Twitter for customers upon request in response to claims of censorship after President Donald Trump’s accounts were suspended on both platforms.

Twitter suspended Trump’s account Friday, a day after indefinite suspensions of Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts were announced in the name of promoting a peaceful transition to President-elect Joe Biden.

On Sunday afternoon, YourT1Wifi circulated an email to customers about calls from users to have those sites blocked. In response, representatives said YourT1Wifi would block Facebook, Twitter “and any other website that may also be Censoring” effective Wednesday, according to the email. Customers could be added to a no-block list upon request.

While the YourT1Wifi email said the decision wasn’t partisan – “just a moral high ground of fair and decent communication” – customer Krista Yep said she believed the move showed support for last week’s Capitol riots in Washington, D.C. She shared the email exchange in a Twitter post that has since gone viral.

“I was shocked,” she said in an interview, “but it was just clear like, OK, awesome: My internet service provider supports the insurrection.”

When Yep informed the company of her desire to cancel service, however, YourT1Wifi owner Bret Fink said in a reply that a customerwide blockage was not taking place.

He said YourT1Wifi would block the sites upon request. More than two-thirds of the company’s customers requested firewalls, he wrote.

In his email to Yep, Fink said he “probably could have worded that a better way as some people are getting confused and thinking everyone is getting blocked.” They reiterated the option in a customerwide email shared Monday morning.

“As a lot (of) customers have stated,” the email read, “they do not want their children or their family connecting to these sites and do not have the knowhow to stop them from appearing so they asked us to do it for them.”

Established in 1996, YourT1Wifi’s coverage area extends to parts of the Idaho panhandle and the Spokane area, according to the company’s website.

Fink did not immediately return a request for comment.

Yep – who still plans to cancel her services – said she believes YourT1Wifi is “gaslighting” customers with how the company has flip-flopped on its offerings.

“They probably thought they were making a stand for their ideals, which are probably seemingly in line with Trump’s ideals with the insurrection and ‘being censored,’ ” she said.

Jim Alves-Foss, professor of computer science for the University of Idaho, said providers have been known to block sites upon request as a service to customers.

“I know some (internet service providers) offer ‘family friendly’ services where they block certain sites,” Alves-Foss said. “It is more work for an (internet service provider) to manage individual lists of sites to block. They have to have that infrastructure in place.”

Generally, service providers routinely censor and block certain websites, such as sites that are known cyberthreats, Alves-Foss said. With the repeal of net neutrality rules in June 2018, Federal Communications Commission regulations allow providers to block sites as long as they are transparent with their disclosures, he said.

The move could conflict with Washington’s net neutrality law, however. Under the law, providers are prohibited from blocking “lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.” Idaho does not have a net neutrality law.

A spokesperson for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division is aware of the situation.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the Attorney General’s Office said Attorney General Bob Ferguson “takes enforcement of Washington’s net neutrality law very seriously.”

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