Help, my CenturyLink bill is $#!*#d up — can you fix this thing?

Question: I’m trying to get a billing problem fixed with CenturyLink, but am having no luck. I recently signed up for a CenturyLink-DirecTV bundle without phone service through the CenturyLink website. I agreed to pay a rate of $24.95 a month.

When I got my first bill, I saw several fees and charges I didn’t recognize, including an “Internet” charge of $34.95 and a related one-time fee of $5.95.

I called CenturyLink and was advised that the $24.95 rate was only valid for a bundle package of home phone and Internet. I showed a representative the order form on the CenturyLink website, but even after I did, the company refused to adjust my bill.

I still have the order form that I agreed to when I signed up for the bundle, and have sent it to CenturyLink, in an effort to fix this. But I’m getting the runaround. Can you help? — Dona Ricci, Denver

Answer: If you had an agreement with CenturyLink on paper, then this should have been fixed quickly.

But it wasn’t. A CenturyLink representative insisted that the $24.95 rate was a mistake and then, when you proved it wasn’t, the company simply went into radio silence.

If a company digs in its heels, you have a few options. First, you can cancel your service and buy cable TV from someone else. That may or may not have been an option for you, depending on your neighborhood, and frankly, it’s the easy way out and lets CenturyLink off the hook.

The second choice is to take this to the regulators. Every state regulates utilities to some degree, and companies like CenturyLink also have to answer to federal authorities. Appealing to Colorado regulators or to the Federal Communications Commission may have yielded some results, but they aren’t guaranteed.

Finally, you could have gone the legal route, sending a lawyer letter to CenturyLink or taking the matter to small claims court. But the amount of money you would recover is probably not worth your time.

In reviewing your correspondence, I noticed that you went directly from phone calls to a written appeal to the executive office. I think you may have skipped a step along the way.

Most companies of CenturyLink’s size have a “contact us” form, which assigns a tracking number to every case. I always recommend trying that before an executive appeal. And remember, phone calls are the least efficient way to fix a billing error, because talk is cheap. There’s no way to prove anything, since you’re not recording the call.

I contacted CenturyLink on your behalf, and it adjusted your bill.

Should CenturyLink have honored the rate on its website?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Scam! These companies need to be punished somehow… But how?

  • EdB

    I had a similar experience with AT&T when I signed up for Uverse service. I only needed the Internet but the bundle came with both Internet and TV and free installation. The sales person showed me on the order form how I could have both installed and then cancel the TV and still get the bundled rate. It also came with a 30 day free trial. If I didn’t like it, I could cancel within the first 30 days and not have to pay for anything.

    When the installer was setting things up, he asked where I wanted the box for the TV put and I told him not to even bother installing it as I was going to cancel that part right after he left. He told me he could save me some time by just taking the box back with him and cancel the service then. So I let him. Turns out that was a mistake.

    During the 30 days, the internet service did not meet my needs so I cancelled it. There was no problems during the cancellation. However, when I got the bill (but wait, it was suppose to be no charge for the first 30 days!) it was for over $400! There was an installation charge of $400. Even if all I had done was order the internet, the install charge should never have been that high. I called and asked what was going on and they told me since I didn’t have the TV portion installed, they would not honor the agreement I signed. I asked them to show me where in the agreement it said I had to have both installed or the agreement was nullified. Of course they couldn’t.

    After a lengthy discussion, the agent finally agreed to take $200 off the install fee and I told them that was not good enough. I finally got transferred to a supervisor and after more lengthy discussion, got the rest removed. That just left a $125 charge for the internet modem and a $25 for internet service (which was suppose to be free). I went ahead and paid the $25 because I was tired of fighting with them, and send the modem back via their pre-paid UPS service and thought all was finished.

    The following month, got another bill from AT&T for the $125. They claimed they had not received the modem. I gave them the UPS tracking number, which showed it had been received. They told me then it should show up on the next bill. Well, it didn’t and another call yielded the same results. The following month, another bill for $125 with the threatening wording of it going to collections if I didn’t pay. A few days later, I got a letter from a collection agency about it trying to collect.

    This time I sent a strongly worded letter to AT&T’s president explaining the situation and that if they did not resolve this and get the collection agency and credit report ding removed immediately, I would report it to the FTC. A could days later I got a call from the corporate office apologizing for the problems and had everything cleared up. The woman I talked to explained they were having a lot of problems of people not getting credit for returning the modems.

    Well, after that incident, I will have nothing to do with AT&T any more.

  • TonyA_says

    Guantanamo Bay with sleep deprivation, waterboarding, etc.
    Does that sound good to you? :-)

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    It would be a start…

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    They might be a bad influence on the terrorists already incarcerated there. Imagine combining bad service with terrorism …

  • technomage1

    I’d be more sympathetic to Century’s case had it been an obvious mistake on their part that the average person would question – for example, $4.95 per month of service.

    But this wasn’t case here. They made an offer via the website that is in line with what the average person could reasonably expect for that service. Therefore, even if they did make an honest mistake, they need to uphold their end of the bargain. After all, they would expect a consumer to do the same.

  • TonyA_says

    Interesting. The ad choices banners in this article has AT&T U Verse. So I guess the ad was a poor choice.

  • TonyA_says

    The real issue is what does the consumer get compensated to fix their (the seller’s) mistake?
    It is so covenient for them to crap all over us and we have to clean up their pile.
    Remember the time they cut power to Elliott’s house? Hmmm what did he get?

  • EdB

    Those ads are determined by key words in the comments. It just doesn’t determine the positive or negative usage of those key words. :)

  • TonyA_says

    That explains the difference between using a human travel agent vs an OTA travel vending machine :-)

  • technomage1

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at here, but let me take a stab at it.. In this case, what should the company compensate the buyer for? Time she spent fixing their mistake? Did she spend an inordinate amount of time doing that? Or was it more like a couple of (admittedly annoying) hours?

    I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice if they gave her a free month of service or that there are cases where compensation isn’t well deserved. But I don’t feel compensation is just in every case, as mistakes can and do happen.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Some wise person persuaded me to use Chrome to browse this site and download AdBlock to Chrome to prevent the ads and pop ups. I don’t see the AT&T ads. Lucky me.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    By the way, those pop unders are now gone. Thanks for staying on my case!

  • TonyA_says

    That turkey is using an ANDROID tablet (Samsung Galaxy) which has a version of Chrome that does not seem to support AdBlock. Android, Chrome, google supposedly can’t do evil. Is Voodoo evil?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I noticed and showed my husband the entire set of posts where you had “words” with one of the ad providers. He says that eliminating the pop unders really has increased his comfort level in reading the site. So, you’ve gained at least one new reader.

  • TonyA_says

    Yeah, hassle compensation. Mistake Biling Credit sounds good.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    This case reminds me somewhat of the monthly discussion I have with my mother about her CenturyLink bill. I persuaded her to bundle her long distance and internet access with her phone bill and upgraded the phone service to block solicitors. Previously she paid $60 plus another $19.95 to AOL plus long distance charges *access* charges and the actual long distance bills from one of those 10-10-321 providers. Now the combined bill is $90 and she’s upset. There are fees and taxes that are assessed on the $60, on the “$19.95 unlimited high speed internet access” charge and on the long distance portion of the bundle. She points out that $60 plus $19.95 is $10 less than the $90 she gets charged every month. She’s right; it’s the fees and taxes that add up so fast. But she *is* coming out ahead because of the long distance phone calls she makes.

    I think the advertisements by CenturyLink are deliberately deceptive, since it’s never disclosed in advance that their packages or bundles or services have mandatory fees and taxes that quickly inflate the agreed-to amount. Their bills are very confusing. In my mother’s case, the $19.95 internet access charge never appears on the bill – it’s $25.90 in one spot on the bill with a $5.95 “promotion credit” appearing lower on the page.

  • emanon256

    I think century link is a complete and udder scam, however I voted no, and I’ll explain why.

    I live in the same area as the OP, and have seen the same adds, and go to the century link website at least every other week to see what the deals are because I am so fed up with Comcast. Every time, I go to the website, it shows the same offer the Op got, but says point blank its part of a “Bundle” and the bundle includes home phone service. On many adds, it is small print at the bottom, but when signing up it always lists it as a “Bundle” in the header and always says “____________ + Home Phone” in the header. If Chris would share the order form listing that a bundle is not required (hiding the OPs personal details) I will change my vote and my mind. However in the OPs own words, they said they purchased a bundle which is phone service + X service, not just stand alone TV service. In fact, when I try to purchase stand alone TV service, it tells me I must purchase through Direct TV if I am not purchasing a Century Link service with the Direct TV. I think they may be a case of the OP not knowing what they were buying.

    Edit: I just checked out their website and it actually says that Century Link internet must be purchased to get Direct TV. You can add phone as well and get all 3, but internet is a requirement for Direct TV.

    Back to my original post:
    Now, what really irks me about Century Link is they keep advertising “Price Lock Guarantee: Home Internet for $19.95 a month for 5 years.” And they advertise the price will never go up. Well, it requires you to purchase a home phone package with unlimited nationwide calling and a ton of features for $45.00 a month to be able to get the Price Lock guarantee. And the fine print says the phone service can change at any time.

  • Jerry

    Good old CenturyLink. They are the phone/internet provider here in the Denver area. Up to a year ago, I had Dish Network TV and CenturyLink phone/internet service. I decided to switch to DirecTV and start a bundle with CenturyLink along with Verizon cell phone. As part of the bundle, I got rid of the phone service and added Verizon and DirecTV. Installation of DirecTV was scheduled and installed timely. However, it took 4 full billing cycles to get the bundling prices right. By the 4th month I was really tempted to get rid of it all together. Finally, CenturyLink fixed it all and gave me a 12-month internet price reduction of $20 as compensation for all the hassles. Everything has been smooth for the last several months though I have had a few issues with the DirecTV portion. Part of the original deal included NFL package. They didn’t say they automatically re-bill you the next season if you don’t call them to cancel.

  • SoBeSparky

    Far more so than airlines and travel agents, the communications companies are experts at hiding charges, creating numerous footnotes and asterisks, and then playing “gotcha.”

  • TonyA_says

    So what you are saying is that you only get the deal based on a BUNDLE of services. It’s bundled pricing which is cheaper than individual services. Fair enough IF IT IS NOT DECEPTIVE.

    However, Me thinks that a very small (almost unreadable to older folks) line at the end of advert is quite deceptive. So are those really fast talking “disclosures” on radio and TV. What the hell are they hiding? Why can’t they put the terms in the same font size as the spiel? Why can’t they be normal?

  • TonyA_says

    now switched to firefox for android and adblock works! love it.

  • cahdot

    who were the %$#^&*( 2 people who voted no do they work for century link

  • emanon256

    I agree with you 100%, they are intentionally being deceptive in their advertising. Why? Because if they were honest you can plainly see they cost more than Comcrap. Both are horrible, and rather than competing on service, they compete on lies.

    However, when ordering on-line, it is not possible to place an order for direct TV, without also ordering internet service. That is in large print and obvious, and explained several times before you have to pay. At least they are honest before you have to pay. And after re-reading the question, I probably should have voted yes. They should honor the price on the web site, which shows that internet is required. That’s why I want to see the order form they have.

  • TonyA_says

    You know what is happening, right? All the companies have a triple play BS offering. If you get Phone + Cable + Internet (or something like that) TOGETHER you get a bundled price but you need to keep it for a certain period. After that period, each service gets individually priced at the normal rate. Problem is the ads are so confusing and they offer different bundles, too.

  • Tamara Murphy

    Chris’s polls are often so lopsided that its simply more fun to lie when answering, just to egg on the conspiracy theorists. Thank you for playing along with me today. — “no” voter #3.

  • emanon256

    What annoys me is they advertise the discount price for just one of the bundled items too. So it sounds even cheaper. Like TV for 24.95 a month, but requires other items, and changes in a year.

  • TonyA_says

    They have to lie because no one will get excited with the real prices they charge :-)
    Also notice how they are so quiet about what happens to your service (especially phone) when the power goes down. Unless you keep your phone wired to copper neg 48 volts, you are screwed during bad weather (like Hurricane Sandy). Heck, you cannot even reach 911 emergency.

  • emanon256

    What I wish is that they would just charge a flat rate, and not bother with the promotional rates. Then the flat rate would be less because they don’t have to make up for the promotional rates. I am sick of ComCast charging $6 and then in 6 months it goes up to $130, then I call and it goes down to $80, then in 6 months its $140, then I call and it goes town to $70. And so on and so on. Just charge one average rate and be done with it.

    I keep a battery backup on my router and cable modem, I can get about 3 hours of internet on my laptop with no power. They should tell people that. Then again, I refuse to sue VoIP. We have to use it for work and it is just not the quality of the hold copper wires. I cannot reach out and touch someone.

  • TonyA_says

    Also, congress has allowed communication companies (and their owners) to be too big and powerful. I can get AT&T to provide me Local Service, Intra and Interstate long distance, Wireless Service, Internet Service, TV, phones and equipment, etc. in my State. That’s more than Ma Bell ever gave me before deregulation.

  • SoBeSparky

    I kind of like the communications bundling, as long as the provider gives me an accurate summary like Hertz does for my domestic rentals. Everything is in there, including all those pesky fees and airport charges. The bottom line on my reservation is invariably the bottom line on my credit card slip.

    So if communications companies would tell the new customer, “here is what your first bill will be,” including all the digital box fees, setups, installation, monthly access to this and that, then the complaints would be reduced. New customers may not like how much they pay, but at least they are forewarned before committing to a contract or wasting a day waiting for the “cable guy.”

  • TonyA_says

    It was VoIP that got us in trouble for those illegal calls to Sta. Lucia and Domenica during the storm. Someone can steal your credentials and appear to be you in VoIP. Thread carefully with VoIP.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    How can I forget? We still haven’t done anything with that gift certificate.

  • TonyA_says

    That will be the day. Great idea, a sample bill!

  • emanon256

    I am glad I don’t have to pay for my VOIP. The work setup is not bad, it rings my cell phone and on my computer. If I don’t answer I get a voice to text e-mail. I can then call from my computer on a headset. It just seems to cut out a lot.

    I would never trust it for home though, my aunt has it and it was the last service to return after Sandy. And you just gave me one more reason not to trust it since someone can fake the credentials. I actually got rid of home phone a while ago, I only have a cell phone now. The only downfall is I can’t fax, but I can with a free on-lien fax service I found. Its limited to 2 pages, and then I can pay $1.99 for a bigger fax. Also most of my clients have let me use their fax if I need to.

  • TonyA_says

    You mean you cannot use their certicate to pay for their own services!
    You finally found something worse than cruise lines and airlines.
    Funny how they are licensed by your State.

  • TonyA_says

    The problem with VoIP is authentication. Even if the password is encrypted, the hacker can use brute force or a program to guess it. So unless the service provider temporarily suspends your account due to a number of failed attempts to authorize the call, then you are screwed. The hackers use a sniffer to check out data to a well known VoIP signalling setup Port and goes from there. Hacking is so automated thst you have to believe they are done by criminal enterprises and not amateurs.
    They make money calling an international country that charges so high to complete the call. They don’t care to talk to friends or lovers overseas. All they want to do is run up the meter. In other words, the overseas phone company is coniving in this criminal conspiracy.

  • TonyA_says

    One more thing, even if I have a battery backup and 2 generators to power my home, internet and cable tv was down because the transmission facilities at the pole needs power. Unless your service is copper based to the central office that runs on 48 volt battery, then goodbye service. Note that even Long Distance can fail when you have dialtone because digital trunk lines need power. Same with a cell tower, they are hooked up to a switching site and their tranmission wires need power.

  • emanon256

    So far every time our power has gone out in Denver, we still get cable and internet. But that’s usually a smaller chuck that is down. Usually just our neighborhood because we have an old transformer station and above ground lines. Somehow the cable we have must all be going to a station that still has power, or they have generators for their stations.

    I worked on a project once to install cell phone towers and they had a lot of battery backups and separate generator stations. However in Long Island, my family even lost cell phone service during Sandy. It was the last service to go, and the first to come back up. We really need a breakthrough in battery technology.

  • TonyA_says

    Breakthrough in battery technology, ha ha ha.
    During emergencies the old technology shines.

    Do you remember when AT&T had to change 17,000 batteries that powered U-Verse VRADs when some of them exploded or caught fire. http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=143185

  • emanon256

    Oh wow, I didn’t hear about that. But I do remember the Dell batteries that were catching fire.

    I think the one thing holding back technology is battery life. With everything being portable and wireless, we are still tethered to batteries and chargers. None of these new batteries are really that much greater than previous versions. Only slightly greater. We need a big breakthrough and whoever comes up with it will probably be getting a Nobel prize.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Yes, it is. Almost makes me want to go into politics.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Yeah, I’d love to know that too.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    And thank you for playing. (I was really struggling to come up with a good question for today’s poll.)

  • emanon256

    I was one of them, I explain it in my post. And ti does not mean I like Century Link, in fact, I hate them.

  • Extramail

    Please tell me of a single Internet, cable or even land line phone bill that isn’t confusing as all get out. And, then for the various governments to add their fees, taxes, etc. is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t think it will be too long before the fees and taxes aren’t more than the darn service being provided. The most ludicrous tax of all is the rural service connection fee. That’s like the highway department telling us that we only have to pay the toll until the bridge is paid for. What you aren’t told is that bridge was paid for 50 years ago but, be careful, it still might fall down because we haven’t maintained it!

  • Extramail

    And, how can anyone vote against holding a company to their advertised price? Four so far. Huh?

  • Extramail

    Please, please, please RUN! I’ll find a way to vote for you even though you live in a different state. And, then I expect you to be the one politician who follows through on a campaign promise because I know your first promise would be to TRY to get rid of the TSA!

  • emanon256

    Because their advertised price states that they must have internet in order to get the dish at that price. That was why I voted that way, though I also asked to see the add. I explain it further in my post above, however don’t get me wrong, I still think Centurlink is evil.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Of course they should have honored the deal. I will say, however, that there are times you’re better off making a call than doing the transaction online, and my experience says dealing with TV/phone companies is one of them. On at least three occasions right off I can think of my local cable company being totally clueless about what they were doing online. Once they were advertising a high speed internet deal online, but I later found out my area wasn’t covered. Another time they’d left a bunch of cable unburied and were totally inaccessible through their website and email but a call solved the issue almost immediately. A couple weeks back we wanted to add a tablet to our existing cell phone service and it was impossible to do it online, but the phone rep handled it without issues. (And none of these examples were Century Link.) That industry just seems to struggle with doing things online. Too many local differences and variables, perhaps?