Why did CenturyLink cut off my Internet service?

When Will Leeper’s CenturyLink account is abruptly disconnected, he goes searching for answers. Will he ever get back online?

Question: Last month, I received notice from CenturyLink that my account was past due for $153. This was news to me, since my employer pays for my internet service and that is all I have through CenturyLink.

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When I called the company, I was told that the last payment they received was six months ago. When I followed up with our human resources department, I discovered that the company no longer paid the service provider directly, but had been depositing that extra $25 for the service with my check for me to pay.

Obviously, I had spent that money as my pay varies every check, and a $25 variance is minimal. I entered into a payment arrangement to pay $51 after having told the representative that my next paycheck would be deposited in a few days. CenturyLink agreed to restart my service and I would pay an extra $51 with each of my next two bills.

A few days later, I made a payment of $60 and then went out of town. When I returned the following week, I discovered my service had been arbitrarily disconnected. I asked CenturyLink about the closure and a representative told me that I had missed my payment by two days. “You will have to pay the full balance plus a deposit to restore service,” he told me.

I then followed up with the executive contacts on your site. They reiterated their understanding that there was no agreement and that because I had missed a payment, my account had been terminated. After multiple emails they refuse to budge. Can you help?

What’s your desired resolution? After all of this, a discount of 50% of the balance of $122.00 and a waiver of the deposit is the resolution I hope for; however, I would settle for reinstatement of the account, and a renegotiation of the arrangement that they might or might not have agreed to in the first place. — Will Leeper, Waldron, Ark.

Answer: CenturyLink should have honored its agreement with you — an agreement it should have known about if it had recorded your conversation. And of that I have virtually no doubt. Large companies like CenturyLink record everything and when it suits them, they play it back.

Did it just not suit them with your case? I don’t know.

Allow me to interrupt this answer with a quick word of recognition. By way of disclosure, I should also note that you’re our former research director and our current director of the blog moderation team. (So everyone, be nice to Will. He’s watching.)

When I looked at your case, my first thought was: All this for just two days? But it’s really more than that. This was about an employer failing to adequately notify employees of an important change in benefits, but also, of an employee — and Will, please don’t moderate this out — failing to review his bill.

People don’t review their bills for many reasons, some good, some not. A good reason — and one I found myself in recently — is that you would rather not know how bad your financial situation is. Because knowing would probably stress you out. So you just pay attention to the account balance in your savings and checking and gloss over the rest.

Well, let me tell you something. You can end up like I did: in the red. One day, after all the drama has ended, I will offer a full explanation. Until then, please take my word for it. Ignorance is not bliss. Read your bills, especially the ones that say “FINAL NOTICE.”

When I contacted CenturyLink about your problem, they initially seemed dismissive about your case. After all, you’d missed several bills and then, according to CenturyLink’s records, you’d missed another payment. They didn’t want to show you any mercy.

I thought a hard “no” was CenturyLink’s final answer, but as your case worked its way up the appeals ladder, the company’s stance softened. I should note that our advocacy team had nothing to do with that. We simply forwarded it to the correct person. We report, they decide.

In the “spirit of customer service” CenturyLink agreed to cut your balance in half. You’ll have to pay a $50 deposit to get back online. You’ve indicated you’re happy with that resolution.

29 thoughts on “Why did CenturyLink cut off my Internet service?

  1. Pro Tip: Always, ALWAYS, open any First Class mail you receive. If you need to be officially “told” something (like the fact you owe money), mailing it via First Class mail is considered sufficient. (Barring those very few things requiring Certified Mail.) It doesn’t matter who it’s from, or if it looks from the outside like a stupid marketing pitch; you REALLY need to open it.

    If something comes in the mail via “Standard” mail, you can safely dispose of it. (Notably, Standard Mail is not forwarded if you change address.) “Standard” is just the new name for Bulk Mail.

    NOTE: Pay no attention to the “Pre-Sort” designation; that has to do with the rates the USPS charges the mailer, and has no affect on if you need to open it or not.

    1. Very true. After we switched to FIOS our bills looked more like FIOS offers than bills. Missed, I think, at least one payment.

  2. I remember one bank – actually, it was a savinvs and loan – I did business with in the early 1980s sent important announcenents via bulk rate but sent promotional mailings first class. Thus, I knew that if something came from them via bulk rate. it was likely about a new fee or an increase of an existing one or a decrease in interest rates. But if it came first class, it was probably an invitation to open a vacation or Christmas club account.

    1. I had totally forgotten about Christmas club accounts. But you’re correct. I’ve gotten important information that looked like junk plenty of times. I think a big part of this is that junk mail spends a lot of time and money on marketing to not look like junk mail.

      1. I almost threw out a replacement bank card because it looked like junk from my bank. I open everything now, just in case…

  3. CenturyLink rhymes with stink – they’ve ripped thousands in recent years and as Qwest before that – and the only reason they softened is because Chris intervened.

    The long term answer is to take your business elsewhere.

    1. The problem is that there may not be an elsewhere. I live near a major city but still only have the option of CenturyLink or Comcast (both bad). Within tiny areas of the city, there is fiber available but not in other areas of the city or in any suburbs.

  4. Went through a similar situation with my employer when they decided to quit paying for internet completely. Their decision was based on their belief that everyone had high speed internet at their home anyway so they felt no need to continue paying for it.

    The notification of the change was buried in a weekly notice to employees that no one ever read anyway. Our process was a bit different where we had to file an expense report to get refunded for our internet cost (i.e. we had to pay the bill ourselves and then get reimbursed). There was a near riot when the expense requests started getting denied!

    The point of this is: Read the Associated Documents!

    There must have been some sort of memo from Mr Leeper’s company to the impacted employees about the change. I know in the current information overload we all experience every day, it is easy to overlook something small like this.

    Read your bills! It doesn’t matter who is responsible for paying a bill, if you get one sent to you (or even if it is only an online bill), read it. This situation would have been resolved long before it got to this point if the monthly bills would have been looked at.

    Look at you paycheck stub every time you get one! Especially if your pay varies. How else do you know if you are getting paid correctly? My paycheck never varies by more than a penny or two (the joy of being salaried! (not)), but I look at it every time to make sure there are no surprises, especially when it comes to accrued vacation and sick leave times.

    Glad an acceptable resolution was able to be reached in this case. Century Link can be flexible!

    1. I must admit fault, but I never download my pay stub. Mostly because I am the one who approves hours, and the system auto calculates the pay and someone at the home office generates the deposits. Unfortunately, being hourly my pay varies by up to $50 each paycheck.

      Had I actually opened the bills though, I would have noticed the issue, but I didn’t as I got a bill each month even when they were paying it. I was told that the notice about reimbursement went out in the weekly newsletter, which I rarely read as it’s usually 10-12 pages of crap.

  5. Wow, Chris, I have no idea what to say, except that I hope you are able to continue as a consumer advocate. You do good work.

    My own situation is much less dire, but irksome. My employer insists that everything use the corporate card, and while the card is in my name, they control payment. I don’t like that at all, and am currently fighting that battle.

    1. My firm was similar. We are issued a corporate AmEx to use for travel. They pay directly within 14 days of our submitted expense report. But for those who procrastinate and don’t file ERs promptly, the firm monitors and at the 45 day mark they get a nastygram indicating they have an outstanding balance and need to file an ER. At 60 days, it’s escalated to a manager. So our company doesn’t pay until the ER triggers it, but they do stay on top of it. I hope yours does too!

  6. Let me see if I have this correct: I didn’t read that any late fees were attached, just six months of missed bills ($153) for which he’d already been reimbursed by his employer ($25/month: $150 for six months.) He makes a double payment ($51) redicing the amount owed to $102, then gets another bill, $127.50.

    That gets cut in half — $63.75 — and he has to pay a deposit.

    So, he’s gotten seven months of service (with interruptions due to late payments) for $114.75 — whereas an on-time customer would have paid $178.50 for the same service?

    Have I misread that?

    1. I didn’t do the arithmetic, but I had the same question: Why does he deserve to have half his bill forgiven? I don’t see where he didn’t receive half his service.

    2. They never interrupted service except at the 6 month mark. And I was on a discount rate that I signed up on years ago. Unfortunately, after 4 years of service, I knew exactly what was happening with the billing and 3rd party payment, so no I didn’t look at any bills.

  7. Centurylink is a traditional telephone company, providing Internet service through its copper network over DSL. Speed on such a network is limited to about 10MHz, and that’s if you live right next to one of its switching stations. Line speed falls off rapidly until you are about three wire miles (NOT as the crow flies!) from the switch, after which the service is unusable. You might find that a cable company, if available at your address, will give you much better service.

  8. If the employer was being billed, I’m surprised they did not get the late notices – in which case, they should have advised Mr. Leeper of the situation (that they should have advised him of in the first place).

    1. My pay varies from $25-$50 on each check just due to variances in hours worked as the company pays “to the minute.”

    1. CenturyLink is the only provider where I live unless I go with a cellular hotspot, and reimbursement was limited to $30 monthly.

  9. Here how I see it .. the issue starts with the OP… this is not a business-originated mistake/failure/issue, but one that is consumer-originated .. regardless of who pays the bill, the account holder – the OP – is ultimately responsible to insure that it’s paid and on time. There appears to be no dispute that (for whatever reason, none of which are controllable by the company) the bill wasn’t paid.. and given that, I think it’s fair for CL to move to disconnect and other contractually permitted remedies.

    As to the follow on agreement.. it’s my opinion that anytime you make an ad-hoc side agreement with a business, you need to get that formalized, commonly by getting an email confirmation as to what’s been agreed upon or not. I’d place this responsibility on BOTH sides, but I tip the burden of responsibility to the moving party — who asked for the ad-how agreement, the consumer.

    I’ll side step the issue of whether or not there was such an agreement at all, and/or what it said (and just for me based on what I call balance of probabilities, I think there was, but must hold out that facts don’t support, or denied my belief)…. but… what is then disclosed is that the payment that was made in accordance to the claimed side agreement — was late. There is nothing mentioned that disputes the claim by CL that this payment was late… again, responsibility to get payments to the business on time is the consumers (and there is no claim of force majeur or uncontrollable postal delays)

    So.. now I’m left with a case of an unpaid bill.. then an (which I am opening under the assumption exists) ad-hoc agreement to rectify the matter — and that agreement wasn’t fulfilled and due to issues not controlled by CL.

    To me, CLs demands on the onset seem well within the bounds of reasonable. I agree with Chris that business do pull out recorded transcripts when it favors their case, and that’s why I favor consumers take reasonable measures to cover themselves – get it in writing/email.

    1. Late payment: Was it mailed on time? Once it’s in the hands of the postal service, it’s considered delivered by law. Of course, a proof-of-mailing chit would be useful……

      1. I know the IRS uses postmark day as date of payment/filing, but I was not aware that Federal (I am assuming you are referring the Federal Statues here) law explicitly says that the day/time of posting then becomes the date of delivery and as such would usurp what would otherwise be written unto contracts etc. For my own education, can you cite the Federal Statue that addresses this?

        1. Nope, I can’t. It was told to us in a business law course in college by the prof who was a lawyer. More years ago than I care to admit.
          Instances where this is inoperative include applications for federal jobs which state that the application must be in their office by a certain date. I’m sure there are other exceptions. It’s possible that contract terms might override this as well. However, to my recollection, payment of a bill is covered by this statute, unless the tariffs of the company which are on file state otherwise. Even then, it might not matter in that contract terms which are at variance with the law are unenforceable.
          A lawyer could likely tell you the straight story on this.

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