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Idaho internet company blocking Facebook, Twitter over 'censorship' could violate Washington law

The actions of Your T1 WIFI, which provides internet services to North Idaho and the Spokane area, could violate Washington state's net neutrality law.

SPOKANE, Wash. — A North Idaho internet provider, Your T1 WIFI, confirmed it is still blocking Facebook and Twitter from its WIFI service for some customers who request it due to concerns over censorship.

Your T1 WIFI provides internet services to North Idaho and the Spokane area.

In an email statement sent to KREM on Monday, Jan. 19, the company wrote: 

"This was always an option for our customers where we block it on our network end which it is easier and faster for us to implement and was a time management decision.

We are a customer choice network and we will never force our customers to view something they do not want to view and don’t have the technology know how to do it themselves!"

The company initially banned Twitter and Facebook after those sites banned President Trump from their platforms due to incitement of violence and undermining the transition of power to President elect Joe Biden. Your T1 WIFI said the change went into effect on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Twitter and Facebook banned the President due to violations of their terms of service. Because Twitter and Facebook are private companies, their bans on the President do not violate the First Amendment, which protects speech from being limited by the government.

Your T1 WIFI's actions could violate Washington state's net neutrality law.

Your T1 WIFI said it decided to block Twitter and Facebook after the company received several calls from customers about both websites. 

"It has come to our attention that Twitter and Facebook are engaged in censorship of our customers and information," an email to customers said. 

In an email posted to Twitter by a customer, Krista Yep on Jan. 10, the company said it was fielding calls from customers asking that the service not display the sites on the internet. Customers said they didn't want their children to be able to access Twitter and Facebook. 

"Our company does not believe a website or social networking site has the authority to censor what you see and post and hide information from you, stop you from seeing what your friends and family are posting," the email said. "This is why with the amount of concerns, we have made this decision to block these two websites from being accessed from our network."

Yep said she found the company's email to customers alarming.

"I was pretty shocked that they were just coming out and saying that," Yep said. "If it's not illegal, it's highly unethical." 

Credit: Krista Yep
T1 Your WIFI said it would block Facebook and Twitter on its internet service for customers who asked.

Initially, Your T1 WIFI said too many customers requested the sites blocked, so the company would block them for all customers except for those who called the company and requested access. The company changed course on Jan. 11, it said customers who didn't request the sites blocked would still have access.

 "Just because you don't like what Twitter and Facebook have done, then you decide to block it for everyone else, so in your opposition to censorship, you're going with censorship," Yep said.  

Yep said she plans to cancel her service, regardless of the company's backtracking. 

"Their original email was pretty alarming and I don't trust them anymore," she said.

Yep forwarded additional emails from the company to KREM. In them, the company states that two-thirds of customers asked for Twitter and Facebook to be blocked. 

In the emails, the company also wrote that their contract and acceptable use policy allows them to block websites if they deem the content "break any rules (sic) or illegal or harmful to our customers and more." 

In a phone call with KREM, the owner of the company again said the websites would only be blocked for customers who asked. 

"We've had customers asked to be blocked by it. That is what the email was about, so no we are not blocking anybody, only the ones that have asked for it," Fink said. 

Credit: Krista Yep
T1 WIFI blocks Facebook, Twitter on its internet service

While Your T1 WIFI says it acted in response to censorship, the company's actions could also be considered censorship. In addition, blocking the sites may violate Washington state's Net Neutrality law, which states that internet providers may not manipulate access to content.

The law contains the following language:

A person engaged in the provision of broadband internet access service in Washington state, insofar as the person is so engaged, may not:
(a) Block lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices, subject to reasonable network management;
(b) Impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, application, or service, or use of a nonharmful device, subject to reasonable network management; or
(c) Engage in paid prioritization

A spokesperson for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's office said the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division was "taking a look at the matter." Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for Attorney General Bob Ferguson, said he takes enforcement of the net neutrality law "very seriously." 

Ferguson's office has not confirmed whether Your T1 WIFI is formally under investigation.

Idaho does not have the same net neutrality law. A representative for the Idaho Attorney General said that office lacks the original jurisdiction to be the enforcement authority in this matter.

KREM has also reached out to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for comment.