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CenturyLink is totally shady. My wife just yesterday spent a significant amount of time fixing our phone bill. She decided a couple months ago to upgrade to a "fixed" bill plan (apparently they've been raising our prices $10/mo every year for the last few years). This plan price won't change until we change the plan. It's bundled with their internet though, but my wife told them to not send the modem because we weren't going to be using it and didn't want to be charged for it.

Fast forward to yesterday and we had a modem in the mail a $200+ bill for our landline that should be <$60. She called and the guy on the other end was very helpful (surprisingly). He went through the bill line-by-line and almost every time said something to the extent of, "Why is that here?" "I'm going to have to talk to {previous sales lady who 'upgraded' us}". Some of the items he didn't even know what they were and couldn't remove them, so he instead gave us a permanent $10/mo discount or whatever it was billing.

About the modem, he said, "You can keep it or mail it back. I can make a note on our software that you didn't want it and it shouldn't bill you for it. However, I recommend you mail it back because sometimes that note will disappear from our software and start charging you again".

Wait... what!? Did he just acknowledge what some of us has suspected all along? That their software has intentional "bugs" that don't remember to stop billing someone for something?

The whole thing feels like a scam to me. I don't trust them at all. This isn't the first time and won't be the last either.

The reason we haven't canceled? No other traditional landline offerings in our area. Everything is VOIP or Cell. My wife wants something independent for emergencies. She's starting to question the value of it all though.




The quickest way to resolve all of these billing shenanigans: file a consumer complaint with the FCC. Magically, you'll almost immediately get a phone call from someone fairly high up in the company (typically executive relations or similar) that has the power to fix things and will make it right.

The sad truth is that these telcos will systematically screw millions of customers with shady fees and fraudulent billing practices, but when the FCC gets involved, they are facing potential fines of tens of thousands for each infraction, so they'll bend over backwards to get you to drop the complaint.

Try it sometime, it sucks that it's necessary, but you'd be amazed at the results.


Completely agree! Taking the time to pull in the regulatory body that sits on top of a misbehaving behemoth absolutely works! I've done this with PHH Mortgage who "lost" a payment when they took over the mortgage from another company, and also with Enterprise Car Rental when they tried to scam me in Chicago during a drop-off. In both cases I received 100% satisfaction very quickly.

Other tips: * Take the time to find the correct regulator... It might be in a different state than yours * Prepare a complete document with as many facts and scanned copies as you can * Clarify your desired outcome * Send everything certified mail * CC the CEO of the company with which you are fighting * If sending a follow-up letter, included scanned copies of the certified mail receipt(s) from previous communications - they cannot then argue that they did not receive your previous communication.

Nobody wants a call from the AG or a Financial Regulator!

Yes, it is terrible that this needs to be done, but it works wonders.


Is there a website you can type a company name in and address and find all relevant regulators ?


Not that I know of. Kind of depends: Is the offending company a utility? A financial entity? Takes a bit of sleuthing.


Sounds like an opportunity for someone to set up a useful service. :)


Don’t know if it’s the same in the US as the UK, but the regulators details are generally on the bill under the complaints section for each company/utility.


Similar, except I went through Elizabeth Warren's Consumer Protection Bureau, the one Republicans want to kill off. I actually got a direct, hand signed letter from PayPal's chief legal counsel listing the ways they would, and did, to correct the situation. We need more power, not less, in regard to shady business practices.


"The quickest way to resolve all of these billing shenanigans: file a consumer complaint with the FCC"

This , I had to do this with Comcast because of their craptastic service ,BS, and invalid billing. Trying to cancel them I kept being passed around to ALL the wrong people and departments, hung up on, refusal to give confirmation that the service was actually cancelled. Finally figured the only way they would cancel my service was to write a complaint to the FCC.

Sure enough just a few days later comcast called and apologized and cancelled my service as requested and fixed the hundreds of dollars of wrongful billing.


Make sure to file a complaint with your state attorney general. Cases like these can quickly get their attention and more importantly, companies don't want to be investigated by AGs. Unlike state regulators, companies are less likely to have a pre-existing relationship with them. Since you're talking about telecom and not just internet, it's also worth checking to see if that is regulated by your state PUC/PSC. Don't bother with the better business bureau. A company can have an A rating as long as they respond to you, they don't actually need to fix your issue.


Also file complaints with your city. Comcast relies on licenses from the city to use the poles for their cables. Complaints about bad service tend to get fixed quickly when their franchise agreements are in peril.


The best way to cancel any cable service is to simply unplug your equipment and drive to the service office and plunk it on the counter while announcing loudly that you’re canceling your service. It took all of 15 minutes and all the service rep said was “Sorry to see you go.” No retention techniques, nothing. It was the best customers service experience I ever had with Comcast.


In my experience helping an elderly relative with the cable shitshow, the Comcast service center people are actually really nice and would have done so without the drama. But I definitely recommend the physical side of things.

Although I have done a bit of a chaotic neutral thing myself: Comcast sent her two new boxes instead of one after we switched her to a cheaper box. They wanted us to drive all the way back to service center. Grabbed their UPS account # from the tracking code, filled out the web form and had it sent back with pickup billed against Comcast’s acct. She never got billed a cent.


I recall a similar experience after cancelling over the phone.

I went to the store to return the box and they said I'd have to take a number.

I said "Nope, here's the box I'm returning, we're done here". Took some pictures and got the F out.

Returning something shouldn't take more than 30 seconds. And it wasn't going to take more than that for me.


Depending where you are in the US, you're in for an hour or two of waiting.


Another way to deal with Comcast is to go in to their local customer service office. The people there are real, live in the same town, etc and generally can solve any issue and will do so with no BS. At least that's my experience.

When I've tried dealing with someone in their call center, it's been much more frustrating.


Unfortunately sometimes they’re woefully understaffed. When we lived in New Haven they never had a line less than 20 deep and it was clear that they just needed not to skimp on staffing because the people were working as quickly as they could.


It's more like the DMV, pick a number, sit in the large waiting area for 30 minutes, just to get someone who doesnt really want to be there either.


I recently ran into an issue with Spectrum where an agent signed me up for a new plan with lower pricing and shipped me a new modem, but the pricing didn't actually update in their system. Called back a few days later to correct this, and no one could find anything about the plan I signed up for, claimed I was lying, etc. After escalating several times and getting no where I emailed the first person from this list [0] and received a call back the next that solved the problem.

[0] https://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/charter-communicati...


Yea, spectrum is scamming people with that. Got an online quote for 400Mbps internet (no modem) for price X. Signed up for service. Billing price was $X + $15. Called service. Oh, we don't offer that pricing, you could not possibly have a quote for that. I was like I do, and I will hold you to it. So they sent me to the local store. Even the store was like "We don't offer that price" and I replied "So you are illegally baiting and switching on customers and committing mail fraud?". After that they adjusted our rate to the quoted price.


Free market only works when there is a choice. If there is only one provider available then regulation is necessary to avoid exorbitant fees.


We don't even need regulation. We just need the DOJ to actually enforce the Sherman Act.


Many states also have a Corporation Commission or similar that you can make a complaint to, in a similar way.


Don't forget your state's public utility commission, or equivalent, too.


This is Utah's:

https://publicutilities.utah.gov

I've reported to them in the past for things Qwest did. Seemed to be effective.


BBB complaints also work sometimes. Was playing back and forth ball with Verizon FIOS's billing department for a few months. Got tired of it. Filed a BBB complaint. Then soon after got a call and magically the issue was solved.


BBB is also a kind of scam: they are not in any sense a government agency, more of a Yelp-like entity. In the age of the internet, they go after small businesses, and are eagerly sought out by scammers because you can just purchase their approval, and it can help allay people's suspicions. For that reason I'm less trusting of anything that is touting BBB support. It might be an old person who's not up to speed with what they've become, but it might be someone purchasing a high rating because they know they're going to try and rip people off, and need some cover.

At the time of writing this, they think I'm just dandy, because I didn't respond but didn't attack them when they tried to shake me down. It'll be interesting to find out if they respond to this post ;)


> more of a Yelp-like entity

Yelp would also work, if the business concerned cared a ridiculous amount about resolving complaints there. That's the only value - that these particular companies care an awful lot about resolving complaints left with the BBB.

Got bullshitted by Comcast phone rep, skipped straight to BBB complaint since I didn't want to deal with Comcast for hours/days, less than a week later I had their VIP Customer Service department calling/emailing daily until they (not me) got the issue resolved.

Perhaps an FCC complaint results in the same result, but it worked out perfectly for me.


> For that reason I'm less trusting of anything that is touting BBB support

What is important is that those companies care about BBB and are quick to fix the issue. If they didn't care about BBB I wouldn't have gone that route.

Same with Twitter. Some companies can be shamed into helping by posting on Twitter. If they didn't care about Twitter, it doesn't nothing using that medium to get help.


You mean Yelp is sort of like a hipster version of the BBB since the BBB predates Yelp by a couple of decades


When municipal fiber started moving into Utah, CenturyLink was a big offender of paying off local authorities to restrict and limit deployment. Lots of cities and areas didn't get upgraded for that reason. Less customers for fiber meant less customers to payback the investment - ends up costing everyone else more. CenturyLink is textbook rent-seeking behavior.

My advice to anyone moving into the Utah area is check the internet service provider options first. Last thing you want is to be in an area serviced only by CenturyLink.


"CenturyLink was a big offender of paying off local authorities to restrict and limit deployment. Lots of cities and areas didn't get upgraded for that reason. Less customers for fiber meant less customers to payback the investment - ends up costing everyone else more. "

This happened to all of Australia with Telstra/Foxtel and the NBN. We were all going to get gigabit fibre, then Rupert Murdoch and the incumbent corporations got involved. Now the 80% of us that didn't already get fibre yet are getting DSL or HFC that drops out ten times a day and can't reliably hit 15Mbit. That's right, new DSL being installed in the year 2020.


A friend of mine signed up for them on a promo, got charged 3x the price he was supposed to, then was told “We didn’t apply the promo, but that’s only for new customers and you’re a customer now so we won’t fix it.”

Thankfully he lives in one of the few places with multiple providers, so he told them to stuff it.


I had a similar issue with comcast. I sent back a modem I didn't need, took photos and even had a receipt. After around 8 hours of phone calls asking them to remove it from my bill and them giving me the run around. They continued to charge me and sent my bills to collections.

At collections, it continued like this for months, I sent photos, I even had a recording of a comcast manager saying "we shouldn't have billed you, and will remove the charge".

After 18 months of fighting this $300 charge and around 30 hours of debates... I just paid the bill


You could just take the CEO to small claims court for the maximum amount in your area (usually $5000-$10000) for the charge + punitive. Some states make it so you can't have a lawyer represent you in small claims court, and since Centurylink does business in your area then the person you served (i.e. the chief executive) would have to show up in person.

That's basically what I did with a shady property management company (AMC LLC, one of the largest in the US tried to steal my security deposit) and won, but I've heard that huge corporations like CenturyLink will even immediately follow up with a settlement offer to avoid spending an executive's time.


That seems absurd

1. If you sue the company, any non lawyer rep can show up.

2. If you can sue the CEO over a corporate matter to force a settlement, why isn't everyone suing every rich person over everything?


1. That is true, but a sheriff can service an executive directly.

2. Your guess is as good as mine.


I think in some states they can appeal from small-claims to non-small-claims court then you have to get a lawyer. Obviously a super pro-corporate court system.


A couple of Comcast employees were canvasing my neighborhood earlier this year trying to talk me into switching over from my amazing fiber provider. I told them I've read enough horror stories like this to ever even consider the possibility of getting into any kind of contractual agreement with them.


I had a similar fraudulent charge sent to collections once. I collected evidence and started a case to get it removed with the big three credit companies which basically took their teeth away. You can win without playing with courts.


An important bit of law to always keep in mind, as companies bank on consumers being ignorant of it: If a company mails something to your home that you did not expressly order - it's yours. End of story. They cannot request that you send it back, they can not charge you for it. It's yours. This includes if you ordered product A and they sent you product B by mistake. Legally speaking, in that situation you were sent a gift and the company has done nothing to satisfy their legal obligation to send you the product you purchased.

If companies could just send you things and bill you without you ordering anything, we'd all be buried in mountains of garbage and steep debt. Keep the modem as a gift courtesy of CenturyLink. Watch your bill and if they charge for anything you haven't received, if you've got the time, file fraud claims in small claims court to recover the money.


You are misconstruing what the laws on unordered merchandise mean. If you have a business relationship with a company, and they send you something mistakenly, they can bill you if you do not send it back. You will not win a lawsuit for fraud or similar unless you have no business relationship, or the company refuses to send you a return mailing label.


Is this state law? Federal law or regulation?



Awesome thanks.


This is definitely not true if they sent it to you by accident.


You'll have to clarify what "by accident" means. The FTC's rules on "unordered merchandise", linked else-thread, seem pretty unambiguous.


If they meant to send it to someone else but put your address on it, that's an accident. Which is to say, if the package has your address on it but someone else's name, you can't keep it (in fact, if it's delivered by the USPS then I believe even just opening it is a crime as it's someone else's mail).

If they intended for you to receive it but believed you were expecting it (and understood that you'd have to pay for it), then I expect that would also qualify.

In order to count as "unordered merchandise" it seems reasonable that the sender must be aware that it was unordered.


The law is not determined by what you find reasonable, but by what the legislation says.

See: 39 U.S. Code § 3009 - Mailing of unordered merchandise

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/39/3009

If you're mailed merchandise that you did not expressly request or consent to, it becomes your property to do with as you will, and you cannot be billed for it. There are no exceptions for accidents.


What I "find reasonable" only applied to the sentence that contained it. Receiving accidental packages has nothing to do with "reasonable".

If you receive a package that was not intended for you, that's an accident, and you are not entitled to that package. That's my core point.

If you receive a package that is intended for you, but it was a bona fide mistake on the company's part, you'd have to ask a lawyer as to whether that counts as "unordered merchandise" or not. I certainly wouldn't simply assume it is.


> If you receive a package that was not intended for you, that's an accident, and you are not entitled to that package. That's my core point.

If it was addressed to you, whether intended or not, the law expressly states it is yours; the relevant code section has no mental state precondition.


That's simply not true. An accidental package is not "unordered merchandise".

If it's got your address on it, but someone else's name, it's not your package and you're not entitled to it (in fact, you can't even open it).

If it's got your name and address on it, but the company meant to send it to someone else named dragonwriter instead of you, it's also not your package and you're not entitled to it.

If you order item A and the company accidentally sends you item B instead, that's not "unordered merchandise", that's a mistake, and you're not entitled to treat item B as a gift.


> An accidental package is not "unordered merchandise"

I'm not sure what you mean by “accidental package”; specifically what kind of accident is involved.

> If it's got your address on it, but someone else's name

Then it isn't addressed to you (the verb address and noun address are related, but not in the use directly corresponding), and isn't what I was talking about.

> If it's got your name and address on it, but the company meant to send it to someone else named dragonwriter instead of you, it's also not your package

This is both generally incorrect and objectively unworkable (it would require an inquiry into the mental state of the sender before one could decide what to do with a package.) There are special cases where things would be different (e.g., there actually is another dragonwriter at the address, who actually did order the merchandise, in which case it is, obviously, not unordered merchandise that they have caused to be delivered to the first dragonwriter. But that's not even an accident or mistake on the sender's part.)

As well as the statute referenced above, the FTC provides clear and explicit guidance: if you receive it, and you didn't order it, it's yours and you may keep it. Intent of the sender is not an issue.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0181-unordered-merchan...

“Q. Am I obligated to return or pay for merchandise I never ordered?

“A. No. If you receive merchandise that you didn’t order, you have a legal right to keep it as a free gift.”


Is that a moral distinction? Then both are right. It's not 'yours', but the law says otherwise.

The reason is, the common con game where criminals would send expensive items to someone, often a recently deceased person, and demand payment. The surviving family would assume that good ol' Dad had ordered it and pay up.

The item was usually junk but with a high price tag. So the con had little to lose.

Anyway, items mailed to you without being explicitely ordered are yours to keep, legally.


If they paid voluntary for a worthless item, than that's a totally different situation from what the law protects against.


Not making my self clear. The unordered item, traditionally a bible with the deceased's name in gold lettering (so it cannot reasonably be returned) is delivered with a wildly optimistic price tag. In the hope that the suckers will pay up without question.


What usually happens in my neighborhood is the demented postman delivers my neighbors packages and letters to me. This is a different situation of course and I always hand carry it to the correct address.


No, the law is what judges and juries say it is, and intent matters. The laa is clearly referring to sales practices, not shipping errors.

Holding a package intended for someone else may well be theft (depending on particulars), just as keeping something that fell in the street is theft.


I work customer service for a large heating oil company. The system we have really does just have horrible "bugs" like this that make charges to the account. Not fun when you are on Auto Pay either.

It's malicious. Some of us reps try to help you out and get it all reversed. Others don't give a shit at all.

The main thing you can consider is not paying, blasting them on social media, or just keep calling until you get a nice rep who will fix it, hopefully permanently.

Our system deliberately renews/adjusts prices per gallon and service contracts to pretty much whatever price the company feels like extorting. I've seen customers charged $4000 instead of $2000 countless times. Some even pay it.


Our system deliberately renews/adjusts prices per gallon and service contracts to pretty much whatever price the company feels like extorting. I've seen customers charged $4000 instead of $2000 countless times. Some even pay it.

While I’m the last person to trust big business, it’s hard for me to believe that whoever is over the developers who create the billing system would put that in a spec - to deliberately overcharge people.

I’m more inclined to believe incompetence and deprioritizing known bugs to create new features.

How does intentionally writing buggy software even get communicated to the front line developers?


It's not that the software is built explicitly to overcharge people. But it is written and launched into production in a buggy state. And the bugs that cost the company money get fixed. The ones that cost the customers are... not prioritized. The overcharging becomes an emergent property.


In the case of my company specifically, I'm tempted to say the system is working as intended. A lot of the workflows are deliberately complex and obfuscated, though, so users are trying to enter $2000 but the system will always generate $4000 unless you know exactly which buttons to press.

Who's to blame for this? The CEO and CTO I would say. They want to generate as many inflated bills as possible and then make it really hard for the customer service rep to submit an approval for it to be adjusted.

They train the reps to say, "sorry sir, this is what my computer is telling me your balance is."

The customer then either pays or leaves the company, at which point they are charged an early terminaton fee and threatened with small claims court.

So yeah, I really feel this corporation directly desires a complex and costly process since it has a near monopoly on the market and the cheaper competitors are plagued with product quality issues as opposed to service/billing issues.


A friend who is in telecom told me that when talking to a prepaid calling card software company, one of the features was the ability to change by how much the prepaid calling card would overbill.

For instance, you make a 12 minute, 5 second call (12.1 minutes with 6-second billing which means 60 seconds is billed in tenths of a minute) - the software records it as say, 12.6 minutes.


Do they not have call termination logs? I am saying that because service logs have to be accurate by law.


I am talking about the sort of prepaid calling cards that you might buy at a gas station or convenience store. I don't know what would happen if you called their customer service line and asked for the logs of your card...


Do you have a source for this? I would love nothing more than for this to be true but I don't think it is. Could this be industry-specific?


Not sure about his industry but all of our calls are recorded in customer service and your verbal acceptance (allegedly) makes you liable for the debt.


Some states require carriers to maintain service for 911 on inactive lines. You could check if this works in your area.

https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2009/05/update-abou...


One word of caution: I worked for a large phone company (GTE then Verizon) back in 99-01. I was in the call center for disconnections.

Inactive lines are not equal to lines with no telephone service. IF there is no telephone service, 911 probably won't work. If your phone is temporarily disconnected (say for non-payment of a phone bill or the disconnect they do for folks that live in FLorida for the winter and up north for the summer), 911 will work for you.

This was definitely true for some of the states on the list provided.

I've long thought this was a sad state of affairs. Anyone with a physical phone to plug into a jack should, theoretically, be able to dial 911. I'm happy that cell phones generally allow this.


Putting power down each linw costs money, ditto for maintaining cabling to each home.

Setting an expectation of free 911 service is fine in the cellular world where its a minor nusiance to support, but in the context of a rapidly shrinking customer base (for incumbent telcos) its a very expensive burden.


I'm not convinced it is an expensive burden comparatively. I'm fine using tax money to fund this. I'm fine with a 911 fee for mobile phones, and Im fine including it on prepayments for prepaid, though it would be more upfront if it were included in the price of the prepayment. I wish the world would put a bit more effort into the system so it is better than it is.

These are things that let folks call 911 for a dangerous, possibly drunk driver. House fire, abusive husband, neglected kids next door. I've personally used it for car accidents, violent customers (one decided to huff canned air in a pharmacy), hurt co-workers, and random folks off the street needing an ambulance.

911 provides a public safety service. If it means that phone companies have to provide access from their equipment or their lines, I'm OK with that. Im OK with all or part of that being reimbursed, with the main exception of requiring a new mobile to be compatable with emergency services (no worse than requiring autos to have seat belts).


Its really easy to end up with a shrinking taxable revenue base like the Universal Service Fund currently has, causing the tax rate to support lifeline services like what you seek to creep up to impressively high rates: http://www.atconference.com/support/faq/usf.aspx#rates

Lifeline service is a public good, but funding should not come from taxing shrinking telephone bills, but instead from a different revenue source that isn't in the process of notably shrinking every year.


I truly tend to agree with you on this. To complicate matters, I'm pretty sure the Universal service fund not only does things like 911, but also helps poor people afford phone bills. The phone bill tax isn't the best way to do it, I think. Honestly, I think they should be fairly flat easy-to-understand taxes for the phones (including wireless service).

That said, I'm not sure how cell phone taxes wind up looking on a bill, honestly. I have weirdly never had contract telephone service. I've never been able to justify the costs. For years, I had prepaid plans (that kept getting better) in the US, then moved out of the country.


"My wife wants something independent for emergencies."

Have you considered ham radio?


I haven't thought of that. That's a good idea!


With those inflating costs, maybe a satellite phone becomes economically viable...


Among other things, we run residential VOIP networks for large ISPs and other operators, and it's ridicilous to see the prices CenturyLink, AT&T and others charge their home customers for just phone service... I regularly come across LOAs and phone bills for $60 to $120 single home phone lines - for absolutely no reason other than that they can get away with it.


Yeah, we're paying $60. When we signed up it was $15/mo. Been creeping up ever since. It's a huge pain.


Thats how everyone prices everything, including the pay you’re willing to accept from your employer.


Heh. I've mailed my modem back (twice) and I still get billed for two modems (!) at least once every year.


Might getting a ham radio and learning how to operate it (getting a technician's license together) be an alternative to a landline for having something in emergencies?


I'm going to have to look into that. Thanks for the suggestion!


I got my technician license and one of the things that surprised me was how helpful the community was and how much they want you to get your license. KB6NU has written a nice guide for the technician exam if you have a background in basic electronics, and there are several nice sites to take test exams on.


The technician license exam is extremely easy, you just have to memorize a few hundred questions. Passing the exam and getting the license doesn't actually prepare you for real world operation at all... I think I spent a total of less than four hours going over the questions, and got full marks on the exam (which amazed everyone there... But I'm a physicist to begin with — just not very much into electronics).

By the way, back when I took the exam, I made a tiny web app to help me with the question pool: https://hamradio.zhimingwang.org/. It basically lets you quickly go over the questions, hide the ones you're confident with, then go over the rest again, rinse and repeat. The question pool might have been updated though.


Of course. Companies stating that info has been misplaced, or taken over by a different representative, or whatever has been happening since the dawn of time. It used to be a kind of CYA. As tech has increased to where I can record every call made on my phone or line and specs about it. If you don't know that they have all your data, now you do, because they do. I believe this tactic will stay around for a bit as a last ditch bully attempt.




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