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PORTLAND, Ore.— The trouble started with an unexpected knock on her front door. A CenturyLink salesman offered Portland resident Sherry Krawczyk a huge discount on her phone, internet and cable TV.
But after signing up with CenturyLink, Krawczyk said she never got the price she was promised and spent hours on the phone, bounced between customer service operators.
“I felt like it was back-alley tactics,” she said.
CenturyLink has quickly expanded its service in the Portland area by offering high-speed internet and cable TV, but with that explosive growth and aggressive marketing has come a spike in consumer complaints.
The Oregon Attorney General’s office reports complaints about CenturyLink grew from 97 in 2014, to 167 in 2015, to 385 in 2016.
Last year, CenturyLink received far more consumer complaints than competitors Comcast and Frontier.
Source: Oregon Attorney General's office
Many Portland-area residents said they’ve been approached by door-to-door salespeople who promised price savings and guarantees. It’s not clear whether those salespeople are CenturyLink employees or private contractors.
“I definitely got the impression there was more to it than they were letting on,” said Lee O’Dell of Southwest Portland. “I felt like I was taken for a ride.”
Sherry Krawczyk said she initially refused the offer from a CenturyLink salesman who knocked on her front door. But the salespeople came back multiple times, offering a better deal each visit.
Eventually, she signed up with CenturyLink. Krawczyk said she agreed to pay $105 a month, plus taxes, for cable, phone and internet. When her bill arrived, the total amount due was $410. Then, the next month’s bill was $326.
“It’s getting worse by the day,” she said.
Krawczyk said she tried to call CenturyLink customer service repeatedly. She felt like she got the runaround.
“They’re not doing their job right,” said CenturyLink customer Mary Drakeford Black, who lives in Northeast Portland.
She contacted KGW to complain about billing issues and poor customer service.
“I was on the phone the other day, I’m serious, for six hours. I got hung up on five times and every time I call back, I go to this person, this person, this person and they don’t care,” said Drakeford Black.
CenturyLink complaints specifically about billing grew from nine in 2015 to 45 in 2016, according to the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, which negotiates and enforces cable television service agreements in Portland and most of Multnomah County.
Of those 45 billing complaints last year, the commission said 23 involved door-to-door salespeople.
“They talk really fast and they show you a lot of paperwork and it sounds really exciting,” explained consumer advocate Samuel Pastrick of the Oregon Citizens Utility Board. “It can be overwhelming.”
CenturyLink has used door-to-door sales to help promote the company’s broad service expansion in the Portland area. The company started offering fast, fiber-optic internet in July 2014. Less than a year later, CenturyLink rolled out a cable TV service called Prism.
“I’ve fielded more calls, more complaints from consumers regarding issues with CenturyLink, probably more than any other provider,” said Pastrick.
On January 27, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning about CenturyLink for advertising issues and a pattern of complaints. The BBB has received 11,954 complaints from consumers nationwide over the past three years, including 392 from Oregon.
“Consistently consumers are telling us about the same type of issues,” said Krista Ferndelli of the BBB. “They are signing up and they are understanding a certain price and when their bill does not reflect that price and they call in for corrections- they never see corrections on their bills.”
“It’s not isolated to folks in Oregon,” explained Ferndelli. “We are seeing those complaints in the markets in which CenturyLink does business.”
The Washington Attorney General’s Office has received 1,582 complaints about CenturyLink over the past three years.
In April 2016, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich came to a legal agreement or “Assurance of Discontinuance” with the company after alleging CenturyLink violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act. CenturyLink denied the allegations.
“CenturyLink strives to provide the best possible service at all times,” wrote Rachael Montemayor of CenturyLink in an email to KGW. The full statement said:
"CenturyLink strives to provide the best possible service at all times. As a customer-first business, we take any complaint seriously and work diligently to provide each customer with a fair and quick resolution. And where our investigations into complaints show that process changes can improve the customer experience, we make improvements and incorporate them into our employee training and customer outreach. Improving the customer experience is our constant objective, and customer feedback, even if negative, is an important part of this continuous effort. Feedback is always welcome. Customers can contact us at 1-800-244-1111. And, with our enhanced online experience, customers can easily access and view their account at www.centurylink.com.
We began offering gigabit services in parts of Portland in July of 2014. We began offering Prism TV in parts of Portland in May of 2015."
The company declined an on-camera interview.
A consumer advocate warns it is important for customers to read the fine print before signing up for any new service. Don’t feel pressured by a salesperson at your doorstep.
“They call it ‘fine print’ for reason,” said Pastrick of Oregon CUB. “It is so fundamentally important as a consumer that you know exactly what you are getting into and you go the extra yard to understand the contract that you are signing.”
Many promotional deals expire after a certain time period or can be cancelled if customers change products or plans.
“You can say or do something, adjust something or terminate the contract prematurely and you can get really gouged by as a consumer,” warned Pastrick.
“Sometimes that price point will shoot the moon.”
So where can consumers turn for help?
This should be your first step. CenturyLink customers can call 1-800-244-1111.
Contact the Oregon Attorney General’s Office at 877-877-9392 or file a complaint online.
Cable TV Issues:
In Portland and most of Multnomah County, contact the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission at 503-823-5385 or email here.
Landline Phone Service:
File a complaint with the Oregon Public Utility Commission by calling 800-522-2404 or online.
Cable, TV or Internet Complaints:
If your complaint is about a telecom billing or service issue, file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission online.
Consumers with questions or concerns can contact the Oregon Citizens’ Utility Board online or at 503-227-1984.
Published February 2, 2017