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Here's why CenturyLink customers received a pop-up that briefly blocked the internet

SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re a CenturyLink customer, you may have had trouble getting online this week. Here’s why the internet service provider says the reason is due to Utah law — and why state legislators say it should never have happened.

A few days ago, CenturyLink customers in Utah received a pop-up message that briefly prevented them from getting online.

The notice read: “Dear Utah Customer … The Utah Department of Commerce, Division of Consumer Protection requires CenturyLink to inform you of filtering software available to you. This software can be used to block material that may be deemed harmful to minors.”

The message went on to advertise a CenturyLink software that would offer such filters.

To resume surfing the web, all the customer had to do was push “OK” and move on. But for customers who were doing things like watching Netflix or talking to Alexa, their internet just stopped working with no notification. Customers who were still connected to their ISP or using a domain name system other than CenturyLink’s ran into the same problem.

Rich Snapp, a Utah software engineer at Rakuten Marketing, tweeted about the issue, saying that “the worst part is that I was just watching FireTV when the internet was blocked so I couldn't see the notice and had no idea why my stream was broken. Only got the notice on my phone while trying to debug the issue.”

On a quest to figure out why this had happened, he found several other disgruntled and confused customers on Twitter and Reddit, he said.

Just had @CenturyLink block my internet and then inject this page into my browser (dns spoofing I think) to advertise their paid filtering software to me. Clicking OK on the notice then restored my internet... this is NOT okay! pic.twitter.com/NtCZUeJF8I

— Rich Snapp (@Snapwich) December 9, 2018

CenturyLink officials told KSL.com that the redirect was a result of legislation passed by state lawmakers, which required all ISPs to offer content filtering for materials harmful to minors and to inform their customers of those filters.

“As a result of the new law, all CenturyLink high-speed internet customers in Utah must acknowledge a pop-up notice, which provides information about the availability of filtering software, in order to access the internet,” CenturyLink’s senior communications manager Courtney Morton said in an email.

The law CenturyLink referenced is SB 134, which was signed into law in March. The state code requires ISPs to notify all their Utah customers in “a conspicuous manner” by Dec. 30 that consumers can request filters that will block harmful material.

This notice may be delivered “by electronic communication, with a consumer’s bill or in another conspicuous manner,” the bill reads.

The sponsor of SB 134, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, tweeted that “SB 134 did not require (the pop-up) — and no other ISP has done that to comply with the law. They were only required to notify customers of options via email or with an invoice.”

CenturyLink said they chose the method they did so the message was as conspicuous as possible.

"The intent of the Utah state legislation is to ensure that Utah internet consumers are aware of content filtering options to protect minors. The statute provides for various options, but the method of notification is to be conspicuous to ensure the message is read. We felt, given the gravity surrounding the protection of this most vulnerable population, the most conspicuous method of notification is a pop-up," Morton said.