Centurylink Call CenterIf you are familiar with the tale of Alice in Wonderland, take a moment to ponder whether Alice would have entered the rabbit hole with all its confusion and horrors if someone had warned poor Alice what to expect. That’s all we are doing here: posting a warning for innocent citizens seeking telecommunications services in Klamath.

Centurylink is the bastard offspring from the union of Qwest and Centurytel, which created the 3rd largest telecommunications company in the country.

We can’t tell you not to use CenturyLink. We can’t state that CenturyLink apparently inherited the terrible, exploitive, and draconian personalities of daddy Qwest and grandpa US West. We can’t make such statements because they could be construed as libelous, so we certainly are not doing that, even though we utilize much satire on this site. We can only share a recent true story from a Klamath Falls resident that reveals the character of this company. Usually it takes only one bite from a dog for a neighborhood to understand it is hostile and worthy of avoiding. We have a lot of bad dogs in Klamath.

What follows is a painfully boring account of the sort of torture all our citizens must endure on a daily basis as they interact with the numerous large companies hiding behind bureaucratic walls and setting bureaucratic traps in order to exploit you from a safe distance. Sometimes it just feels better to know you are not alone. If this is not sufficient warning to consider your options, then read on for the factual account of one person’s recent experience.

In his words…

Dissatisfied with service inconsistencies and what seemed like over-billing from Charter Cable, I needed a different Internet service and decided to try Centurylink. Afterall, they had been sending several pieces of junk mail each week promising high speed Internet for $19.99 a month. I didn’t see the harm in trying it out, I could always cancel if it wasn’t good enough, right?

I went to the library to use their connection to sign up for service online, using the code that promised free setup. They wanted my credit card for a deposit. Soon thereafter, I received an email with an installation date scheduled in two weeks. That was longer than I wanted to wait, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Then I got busy with a project out of state that I had to cut off early to make it to that appointment. To my disdain, they never showed up. I tried calling the number on the original email, but it disconnected me with every attempt to wade through the automated prompt system, a very frustrating experience in itself.

The next day, I was fairly pissed off about it, so I went to the library again to respond to the original confirmation with the email address provided for customer support. I told them since they didn’t show up for installation or reschedule, I didn’t want their service and expected anything I paid to be refunded with no further commitment.

I assumed the matter was closed, but I was wrong. The pain had only just begun.

A month later, along with the ongoing bombardment of their junk mail which usually stated it was urgent (but clearly was not), there was a bill. Centurylink had proceeded to force an account upon me even though there was never any service delivered. I know this because a physical telephone line connection was required, and there was none. That didn’t stop them from escalating charges and late fees for a nonexistent service. Someone finally called to ask when I would make a payment. I stated there is no service to make a payment for and the representative said there was and I would have to pay. I demanded they remove the record and stop harassing me, but she said that I’d have to talk to a different department. I tried calling Centurylink again and was so annoyed by their robot call routing system and hearing the broken record loop of marketing pitches while being on hold, after a half hour, I just couldn’t continue. Dealing with their interface was driving me nuts. It was like it was designed to entrap people and make it impossible to reach anyone with authority to remedy the situation.

I decided to ignore Centurylink a while longer, hoping they would eventually decide that it wasn’t worth bothering someone they never actually provided service to. Then I received notice they were sending the account to collections. It was baffling that the government allowed this large company to operate this way. (That’s what the Public Utilities Commission is supposed to do, but during his last term, Gov. Kitzahaber ousted the only two PUC Commissioners willing to confront unscrupulous telecom providers with penalties for such behavior). Centurylink was illegally billing me for a nonexistent service. It was illegal because they breached the contract when they failed to install the service on the appointment date. They never provided any service and the nature of a service contract is to pay for service rendered.

I decided the only thing I could do was to file a report against the company with the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, which more people should do. For a complaint to be considered, you have to speak with a supervisor and be able to identify that person in the complaint. The industry has a counter-attack for that, I discovered.

I fired up my tape recorder as backup and made the call, bracing as much as I could for the futility of the time-wasting exercise. My assumptions were correct: it was every bit as painful as I worried it would be. The prompt system didn’t recognize anything I said, it wouldn’t even recognize my zip code when keyed in. A hundred zeros later, I finally spoke with someone who transferred me to the nebulous department that was supposed to be the correct entity to assist me.

Then began the first phase of the interrogation. It was like dealing with a bank for a loan. My imagination stretched to absorb the lunacy of such detailed disclosure just to ask to talk to a supervisor, while being denied any information about the people placing the demands. Wait…every piece of information they grab helps with the forensics of screwing up your life with either more junk mail or collecting on made up services…that must be it. Not surprisingly, the person I spoke with could not help me and transferred me to a manager who required the same information again. “Why can’t you people share information with each other?” I asked. “Our system won’t do that” the supervisor said. “But you are a telecommunications company with a huge database that manages a huge amount of data you seem to access easily when you want to bother me, so it seems like you do.”

I said this as the supervisor lady continued talking over everything I said. I waited for her to get through her script and said, “Do you always talk over people?”

She said, “I apologize, I didn’t realize you were interrupting me.”

“When you keep rattling off irrelevant statements I feel I must, so please listen and stop doing that.”

It was too late, but the time I got to the fourth word, she had started talking over me again. She was clearly covering her ass by following the routine of her training. So I again waited minutes for a pause.

I said, “I need your name.”

“Sally.”

“Sally what?”

“Sally is all I will give you.”

“So you aren’t going to do what I ask, Sally? To remove the account since it should not exist in the first place because there never was any service?”

“All I can do is note that you officially terminated your service today.”

I said, “First there never was any service, so there is nothing to terminate. If I ask you to terminate, then I would be admitting that I had service, which I did not. I’m not paying $120 for something I never received. There was no service. EVER.”

“Then you will be reported to collections.”

“I demand you zero this out and terminate the record of service for nonexistence.”

“I can’t do that in my department (customer service), I would have to transfer you to billing.”

And it all started over. I put the phone on speaker and was on hold for no less than 35 minutes while the same detestably cheesy announcer voice from the 50s extolled the virtues of every kind of service I would never want including that which I had attempted to order in the first place. It even talked about the stellar service record. I wondered…is this part of the Big Brother programming? Is the objective to keep me in a wait area so long I hear this garbage so many times I can’t help but believe it and need it?

When I finally got through to the billing department I had to provide the same round of identification…again. “Really? the last lady said she would get the info to you so I wouldn’t have to repeat this junk again. I don’t want to go through this for the third time in the last hour of getting nothing done.”

“I can’t help you unless you provide the information I ask for.”

“I’m quite sure you will not help me anyway because I know I will need to speak with a supervisor.” That got me nowhere. I gritted my teeth through another set of full disclosures with only a first name in return. And…yes…she put me on hold to wait for a supervisor for another 15 minutes where I heard…yes…you guessed it…the same marketing pitches over and over again, but I still didn’t lean into their programming. I was more annoyed and irritated than ever. Hmmm…they are recording me too…is there another agenda to annoy customers so much that they sound completely irrational by the time they get to the next person? It would be difficult to convince a judge to be on my side if they played statements inflected with hostility.

When the supervisor at billing came on, she refused to escalate higher. She would agree only to accept termination notice on the account (after placing me on hold again for research).

Now I’m filing a complaint with the PUC without the information the PUC requires for a complaint: the full name of the supervisor and a direct number to reach them.

It appears, and so far my assumptions have been dead-on, that they will be sending me to collections. I would try to take them to court, but they know no one would hire an attorney at $200 an hour to protect themselves from $120. Besides, who exactly would I sue or call as witnesses? I couldn’t prove damages until I actually paid the fabricated charge, then somehow I would have to prove that I never received service they say I did.

My crime was going to a website to try a local internet service provider. From now on, I will not work with any companies that aren’t headquartered in Klamath. At least with those, you can find an owner or manager to yell at directly. They may not be around much longer though, as these large companies continue to use their scale and misdeeds to exploit our population and put the local providers out of business.

Welcome to freedom and liberty in the United States of America, the world’s largest capitalist democracy.

The US of A…also the world’s largest collection of government and private bureaucracies executing psychological tyranny against their own people.