Sunday, December 14, 2014

Centurylink, Part IV - an adhesion contract, a win at the FCC

Note: this is a belated blog post concerning my relationship with Centurylink as a customer and end-user of their service. The events described herein occurred more than a year ago, in late 2013. At the time, I didn't think there was much interest in this, so I discontinued the series. But in the last few days, one of my readers brought it up and wanted to know how things ended between Centurylink and I. This is how the story ends.

This is a continuation of a series of articles ( Part I, II, and III) to chronicle my struggle against a large corporation unwilling to provide adequate internet access speeds. That is, Centurylink and I agreed that they would provide internet access at a max speed of 5mbs, guaranteeing 80% of that speed at 4mbs per second. It appears that they could not even do that.

I tried their service for a month only to find that I had to babysit the modem every day to make it work properly. I even started logging my observations in the hopes of establishing a pattern of behavior.

After many calls and emails, it became clear to me that Centurylink had no intention of fixing the root cause of the problem: DSL. They seem quite determined to not upgrade the line to my house to fiber. If they would just do that, I would not be writing this series of blog posts. Perhaps they have made a tacit agreement to not really compete with Comcast. They may also be aware that eventually UTOPIA will be available for our house and that I would just as soon abandon both Comcast and Centurylink.

For those who don't know, UTOPIA is community broadband, a project born out of frustration on the part of 13 cities who could not get decent service from either Centurylink or Comcast. Neither of the two incumbent ISPs were willing to increase speeds and upgrade service until UTOPIA came along. Unfortunately, UTOPIA halted their rollout about one and a half blocks away from my home. I guess Comcast and Centurylink don't really think they can compete with a government run ISP. Isn't private enterprise always more efficient than government? Maybe not.

So what was Centurylink's response when I cancelled my service and filed a complaint with the FCC? Impose a $200 early termination fee and try to collect. I reviewed their statement, and sent them a check, with a catch.

No, I didn't pay for the early termination fee and I didn't pay for unusable internet service. The bill was for $237 and change. I paid them for the phone service and taxes associated with the phone service - nothing more - for a net payment of $11.46.

So what's the catch? I modified the check to include an adhesion contract on the back of the check. The idea is that their check processing system is automated with little or no human inspection of the checks. What does the adhesion contract do? It says that all claims between the parties are satisfied with endorsement of this check. I don't use it lightly and have only used it once before, and it worked then. It could very well work in this instance, and it did, as they zeroed out my balance.

Here is what the adhesion contract says:
“Endorser acknowledges full satisfaction of any and all claims, and this check represents accord and satisfaction amongst the parties of any outstanding claims.”
When this check is endorsed, the endorser is waiving all outstanding claims against me and should have little recourse in any legal proceeding to collect any other outstanding amounts. This also means that whatever upfront costs I assumed to set up service are waived, too. I can't recover those. I regret not being able to collect those funds back, but I have to choose my battles. I lost more than $100 on this deal with Centurylink and I'm not happy about it.

I checked my online bank account a few days ago and sure enough, they did cash the check. I now have a nice hard copy of the check, front and back for use in any further proceedings.

At least with the adhesion contract, I'm attempting to set a legal limit on any further exposure to Centurylink since terminating service with them. At this point, I could deal with the debt collectors and the credit records while my complaint with the FCC is being worked out. Once the debt collector sees that there is an adhesion contract on the back of the check, that could present a problem for him to collect anything from me, legally speaking.

I didn't have to fight much with Centurylink to prevail. Centurylink conceded and I won. But there wasn't much to win. I was glad to win, but I won on their terms. Had they amassed their considerable legal team against me, I'm sure they would have found some way to win. It is very likely that they had at least one ally on the commission at the time.

So I went back to Comcast. Their speeds were far superior to Centurylink and I believed that they offered much better customer service. You may find this hard to believe, but I hate Centurylink more than I hate Comcast. Given the choice, I would choose Comcast over Centurylink without further consideration.

More than a year later, I've moved to a new home on the other side of the valley. Once again I see the same situation. Centurylink is the only wired service provider here, and it would seem that Comcast has ceded the territory to Centurylink, perhaps in exchange for some other territory.

Service has been decent so far, although I do wonder if ftp and http downloads for my linux updates has been throttled. With M-Labs from Google, I test very well at 22mbs, but have only 1mbs upload speed. That's pretty stingy of Centurylink. I just did a test here by updating the linux kernel and found speeds close to those advertised, so maybe my concerns are a bit premature. I will have to wait and see.

For now, I'm getting halfway decent service with Centurylink. I've got things set up the way I want them and I don't really have any complaints about them, either, for now.
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