CenturyLink backpedals on a price quote — how about a price adjustment?

George Antoun is quoted a monthly rate of $59 for his Internet and phone service. So why is CenturyLink billing him $76? And can he get a price adjustment?

Question: I recently contacted CenturyLink to get a price quote for phone and Internet service. The transaction was conducted via online chat, and I saved a copy of it.

I was very clear that I wanted to know the total bill, including all taxes and fees. About halfway through the chat, the CenturyLink representative said, “Keep in mind that all prices I quote you during the course of this conversation do not include taxes, fees, and regulatory assessments.”

I told her that the whole reason I’m going through the chat was to figure out what the taxes and fees were, and if that wasn’t possible, then I wanted to stop.

Her response was “I am about to tell you.” Then she said the second month’s bill would be $59. The first month’s bill had some one-time charges. Based on that, I signed up for service.

My bill came to $76, and when I complained, I got nowhere contacting CenturyLink. I also tried filing a complaint through the Federal Communications Commission, but I quickly realized that they wouldn’t be helpful.

I want CenturyLink to honor the $59 price I was given. Can you help? — George Antoun, Golden, Colo.

Answer: If CenturyLink offered you a $59 price, you should have received one. And you didn’t.

I read the transcript and I’m not really sure what you were offered. Yes, the representative offered a $59-a-month-rate, but she also said, “I am not able to see what the full taxes and fees are as they depend on the city, state, and government taxes.”

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The responses from the representative appeared to be largely scripted, and English may not have been the representative’s first language. It doesn’t matter. In the end, you didn’t get a price quote that specifically said “tax inclusive,” and CenturyLink raised your bill to $76.

That’s not right.

The problem was the transcript. It was slippery and imprecise, so it was hard to pin down CenturyLink. You might have appealed this to one of the CenturyLink executive contacts, and that might have shaken something loose.

I’m troubled that a company like CenturyLink could leave you with the impression you were getting a $59-a-month rate, when in fact, you weren’t. But that doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that any company can quote customers a rate, minus taxes. If they’re so hard to add to the final rate, then why isn’t CenturyLink having similar difficulties sending you a $76 bill?

Point is, it quotes you these low rates because they’re low, and people say “yes” to low rates. Never mind that you can’t actually get an Internet/phone package for $59 a month.

I contacted CenturyLink on your behalf. It reviewed your account and your transcript and insisted that you had been quoted the correct rate. You disagree with this decision. I disagree with it, too. I think your only recourse is to cancel your service.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    “If they’re so hard to add to the final rate, then why isn’t CenturyLink having similar difficulties sending you a $76 bill?”
    I’ve wondered this so many times. It goes from being impossible to deduce to completely routine the second you sign up.

  • MarkKelling

    They have your address, they know what the taxes and other additional fees are for that address when they bill you, it is idiotic that they can’t (or simply won’t) tell you what your total is when you ask. And I don’t want to hear anything about how difficult or expensive it is to have a computer system provide these figures on the fly — because it simply is not difficult if your software is written correctly.

    Other businesses are using this argument to get out of quoting all-in prices too. Hotels and rental car companies come to mind. Airlines have also argued this when quoting fares on line. But when they are required to by law, they all seem to be able to give you the full price without issue.

    And some may argue that in the US it is common to have prices for most things quoted without taxes included because that is just the way it has always been. For simple sales tax like you pay on most retail items (clothing, restaurants, and similar things) that is OK because the average person can calculate it because they know what the tax rate is. But on something like cable TV, internet, telephone, and so on, there are so many additional taxes and government fees it is simply not possible to know unless you are told. Maybe it is time for that to change to the European model of what-you-see-is-what-you-pay pricing for everything with all taxes included.

  • Rebecca

    I actually cancelled T-Mobile service because they couldn’t tell me what some fees on my bill were for. It wasn’t much, if I remember correctly it was about $8. But I asked what it was, because the description didn’t make sense. After speaking to numerous reps and supervisors, via phone and chat, no one could tell me. They flat out said they didn’t know.


    Why is the in the Problem Solved file? Should it not be case dismissed as the consumer is still stuck with the higher bill?

  • Don Spilky

    Companies that bill on a monthly (subscription) basis can not guarantee an all in “Tax/Fees Inclusive” rate because they have no say in how municipalities set their tax rates or fees. For the sake of discussion, lets say OP WAS quoted an all-in rate of $60, and after 4 months the Govt raised some fees and his city raised their tax rates and his $60/mo bill is now $65/mo. I’d imagine that the OP would expect that his bill NOT be raised to $65/mo and he’d be writing into Chris about his bill now being higher.

  • AAGK

    I’m with Chris. Cancel them. How on earth would a regular customer know the myriad of regulatory fees involved. It is not like simply adding sales tax. If this company refuses to even give you a complete price quote, which should be a simple thing, then it doesn’t deserve your business.

  • AAGK

    Maybe it is problem solved, get rid of Century Link.

  • MarkKelling

    They could say “Currently, the total for your service will be $60 all taxes and government fees included. This may change if the taxes and government fees change and is out of our control.”

  • Don Spilky

    Which is essentially the same as saying “Plus Tax and Fees”.

  • Alan Gore

    CenturyLink is a traditional phone company, which like all the others have bills that are encrusted with all the arcane fees all phone bills have on them, like that tax to pay for the Spanish-American war. If you have a cable company in your area, they will probably offer a bundle of phone, TV and broadband for less. And because they are not a phone company and offer telephony over the Internet, they don’t have all the funny phone fees. You can in many cases even get nationwide long distance thrown in.

  • taxed2themax

    You could say “currently the total would be….” However, IMHO, what the customer will ‘hear’ will be “the total WILL BE…” and if there is a difference, the fact that it was told to you as “currently” will long be forgotten or conveniently not remembered.

  • stephen_nyc

    Truth be told, the Spanish-American War excise tax has been cut from our bills. That being said, however, ‘encrusted’ is an excellent way to describe the myriad fees (both of the governments AND the carriers) that are covering our phone bills. My VOIP bill is double what the ‘rate’ is. My rate is 9.95 per month and the total comes to $20.35. And, yes, it has the long distance stuff.

  • stephen_nyc

    Since the company mentioned is a naming rights sponsor, I’ll throw in my rant against those companies and say maybe they do this because, hey, naming rights aren’t cheap and they need a way to bring in some extra money.

  • just me

    NOT! You are dead wrong. There is nothing in most laws that says that such taxes must be paid by the consumer as opposed to payment by the company. The company should have absorbed the taxes until it figures out how to notify the consumer and seek approval change of contract.
    The local taxes are not changed month to month – most of time there is generous lead time available. Many people may not be able to afford the $5 increases and must have a choice to cancel. Of course the taxes are not under company’s control , but timely notification to the client IS.

  • Fishplate

    The contract states “…plus taxes and fees imposed by others…” or words to that effect. When they go up, your bill goes up. There is no change of contract requiring approval.

  • Fishplate

    My state has 159 counties. That’s at least 159 different taxing jurisdictions. There may be many more, depending on additional municipal taxes. On top of that, there’s varying franchise fees, etc. That’s just one example of why it’s hard to quote.

    Having said that, my cable company (not the one we love to hate, but another big one) was able to give me a quote for internet service, plus an estimate of taxes. They turned out to be correct, and my bill was what I expected.

  • just me

    This is what you accept? I do not? Didn’t you just make it consumer’s obligation to go out and find out what those taxes might be.
    The quote shows nothing about what they are – so how come you imply any agreement to pay the unknowable – at this point they are big fat ZERO and the zero has been proposed and accepted.
    Besides you missed the “minor” most often present in the law fact that it is the company that is obligated to pay those taxes even though the law allows the company to pass them trough to the consumer.

  • Fishplate

    The contract is the contract. That is all I have to accept or reject. I can propose amendments, I suppose, but they don’t generally negotiate.

    I don’t know how to force a cable company to provide service on my terms. Please share your secret with us!

  • just me

    What is the contract is the issue? The contract that includes things that are unknown may not be enforceable. Any contract requires some sort of meeting of minds. I just illustrated – my reading is that the taxes and fees they are talking about is Zero. Your interpretation is that it can be the sky if the “others” so wish. Clearly lack of meeting of minds – which may make that provision unenforceable.
    Again you missed the point – the company is obligated to pay the taxes not you. They are only allowed to pass them trough to you and if they are not telling you how much they pass through to you it may mean they pass Zero. How do you know any different?
    And there is nothing in the law preventing them from paying those taxes without passing them to you.
    Of course – such ill defined agreements are present everywhere – but it does not mean they are enforceable. In fact many contracts are full of illegal or unenforceable T&C, but they count on your never disputing those.

  • Bill

    While I am not a big fan of Comcast (they are my only choice, thanks state-sponsored monopolies), any time that I need to discuss changing my plan, etc., the representatives either via phone or chat are able to provide down to the penny pricing including state and/or local taxes, fees, etc. They might say something to the effect that taxes should be about $x.xx and they might be off by a quarter some times but I agree, CenturyLink was being either stupid or lazy.

  • cscasi

    T-Mobile fees and charges & Government taxes and fees

    Charges based on the following address: 2303 WESTPARK WAY CIR, EULESS TX 76040-3942

    T-Mobile fees and charges

    Federal Universal Service Fund


    State Universal Service Fund


    TX Recovery Fee Texas Recovery Fee Texas law imposes a franchise tax on each company conducting business in Texas, including T-Mobile. The fee applies to all subscribers with a Texas Billing or PPU address for the recovery of costs associated with complying with the Texas Margin Tax.$1.20


    Government taxes and fees

    State & Local Sales Tax



    The above is a portion of my monthly T-Mobile bill that shows the taxes and fees. What is so difficult to understand? Just curious.

  • Byron Cooper

    I think the question to ask, is whether there is another provider in the OP’s jurisdiction that will provide phone and internet for less than $79. Whether the price is a good deal also depends on what type of internet. Broadband or DSL? Anyway the FCC does not regulate consumer complaints. Their job as stated at FCC.gov is to regulate interstate commerce for communications and anti-trust issues. Consumer complaints are handled at the state or local level. For example, in Washington, DC the regulator is The Office of Cable Television. If Century Link is the only provider the OP’s options are to do without or agree or use HughesNet satellite which is much more expensive.

  • It’s CenturyLink folks . . . . nothing new here. Previously it was Qwest.

    Prior to online chats these account set-up conversations were done over the phone, with many promises made by the offending company . . . yes, cable and satellite companies too.

    When you asked for an email confirmation you were told, “I’m not able to do that from this department” or suchlike. Now they have you.

    Then the bills start to arrive and they are not what was promised. So you call customer service who [perhaps] state there will be a refund reflected in your next bill. It doesn’t happen.

    Small mysterious charges also appear on your bill, and slowly you’re paying more and more, and calls to the company seem encouraging, but never satisfy.

    The way the aforementioned core of companies operate is CRIMINAL ACTIVITY, and should be investigated and stopped once and for all.

    CenturyStink – yup, I spelt that correctly – have their name on the stadium that the Seattle Seahawks play in, and I’ll leave you to guess how that makes me feel knowing that CenturyStink are paying for that via the overcharges and lies that you and I, the public, have to endure.

  • cscasi

    But, it is always stated in the contract that the taxes and fees are subject to change. It is that way on my electric bill and gas bills, as well.

  • cscasi

    Yes, they just have “funny” fees to the state and city, plus a few other entities.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    That’s a little pet peeve of mine about this site. Frequently the business telling the person to “take a hike” ends up as a “problem solved.” Makes no sense to me why that repeatedly happens.

    “Problem solved” should be some sort of resolution–even if it wasn’t everything the customer wanted, some correction or offer to fix things. “Case dismissed” should be stuff like this where nothing gets resolved. Seems pretty clear cut.

  • Mel65

    Off topic: Is there any way to stop that stupid, annoying little “Share This” bar from popping up across the bottom every time I click open a new story or page?? Even more annoying than the constant “SUBSCRIBE to the Newsletter” reminders, despite the fact that I’ve been subscribed for years…

  • Carrie

    We left CL over a few “disagreements” like this. Once we cancelled CL and switched to Comcast, we recieved a bill for an extra month with CL. As much as we disputed it, they would not budge. We paid it and vowed to never, never go back to CL.

  • Éamon deValera

    The taxes do indeed have to be paid by the consumer they are not paid by the cable company but simply collected by the cable company. They are paid to the government entity that imposed the taxes.

    The company can’t absorb the taxes. I was trying to think of a good analogy to no avail. The company can’t simply decide not to collect and forward a tax.

    Taxes may indeed change month to month. In some jurisdictions a cable bill will have federal excise tax, federal universal service fund fee, state sales tax, state telecommunications excise tax, county sales tax, county excise tax, E911 fee, municipal taxing district (such as NYC area’s Municipal Transportation Commuter District Tax) , School District Sales and Use Tax, county sales tax, municipal sales tax, municipal franchise fee.

    Added to those are various recovery fees which are not taxes on the individual service but rather an apportionment of the taxes and fees charged to the cable operator for their mere existence.

    I have measured rate service with the phone company for a local POTS line. The charge for the telephone service is $10.99 per month (with an allocation of 30 outgoing calls, after that each call is a dime- I never even reach 30). My telephone bill with taxes and fees is $32.17 . Almost 2/3 of my phone bill is taxes and fees not telephone service.

    Yes, knowing what the taxes and fees are before subscribing would be great, knowing an approximation would probably be just as good. But if you want to complain about the taxes don’t shoot the messenger (in a literal sense in this case). Blame the government you elected that imposed them.

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