3 Ways Your ISP May Empty Your Pockets During an Internet Outage (Ahem, CenturyLink)

centurylink_logo_detailThe Internet, and more specifically access to the Internet, drives our everyday lives like nothing else in the modern world, so when the Internet goes down due to an outage it can wreak serious havoc. By now we’ve all been there: you fire up your browser to check your email or see what’s new on Facebook and… nothing. The Internet is down. Sometimes this is due to router or modem issues and sometimes it’s due to an outage caused by weather. That’s exactly what happened to me today: the Internet was down due to a snowstorm and my Internet Service Provider, or ISP, said it was due to an outage (that was the second time I called them–the first time they said it was a local issue). Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing anything as mundane as checking email or Facebook; I had real work to do. My ISP, CenturyLink, gave me a terrible time as I battled them for a credit or refund (aside from everything else, it was not fun listening to a recording while on hold that kept telling me to ask about CenturyLink’s 99.99% uptime; that would be hilarious if I wasn’t steamed at the time). Along the way I picked up on a few techniques they seem to wield in order to drain money from my accounts and I thought I’d share them here with you, along with a few recommendations at the end on how to avoid getting taken like a fool in a similar situation.

1.) The “Automatic” Outage Credit

During a recent outage that was apparently caused by a snowstorm, a CenturyLink representative told me that customers are automatically credited for time they can’t access the Internet due to an outage. That sounds pretty good, like they are really looking out for their customers or something, right? Wrong. Upon further questioning it came to light that a customer must be without Internet access for 5 full days before an automatic credit will be issued. In other words, if your Internet access is only down for an hour or two a credit won’t be issued unless you call in to report it. Even then you can’t be credited until the outage is resolved (this is supposedly in order to credit you for an exact amount of time). Unfortunately, it seems the customer must call back in order to initiate the refund once the outage ends. When I asked the representative why customers aren’t automatically credited for any outage, even those less than 5 days, his response was that some people care more than others. Now I wonder why they set the length of time a customer must be without service in order to get an automatic credit to 5 days… could it be because that never, ever happens?

2.) Faulty Service Monitoring System

When a representative from your ISP tells you, “My system says that your equipment is currently communicating with ours,” you might think that your service is fixed, but you shouldn’t automatically assume so. When I was told this I immediately checked my service and guess what? It was still broken. If I had just hung up the phone (I had been on the phone talking with someone or on hold for over an hour at this point and this was my second call) I would’ve been out of luck. If I had trusted them to credit me for the time I was not able to access the Internet based on their system I would have gotten ripped off for sure. The crux of the problem is this: if the support reps system tells him everything is fine when it is not, how can the ISP (like CenturyLink in this case) be trusted to credit me for the proper amount of time? The simple answer is that they can’t. When I asked the rep if they were going to be monitoring my account until service was restored, he said something to the effect of, “Oh, did you want me to?” Good question.

3.) Banking (Literally) On You Giving Up

Oftentimes busy customers don’t have time to be on the phone for hours finding out what is wrong with their Internet service and trying to get it fixed. Additionally, it can take a herculean amount of patience; a call to the technical support and/or billing departments of an ISP like CenturyLink certainly isn’t my idea of fun. Just today I sat on hold for well over an hour getting transferred from department to department to department. Each time I was transferred I had to re-verify who I was and what I wanted. At best, this is a very poorly designed customer support infrastructure. At worst, it is purposefully designed to agitate, frustrate and obfuscate customers in an attempt to get them to give up on accomplishing whatever they set out to accomplish (such as getting a refund or credit). The ISPs know that you can’t get what you don’t ask for and you can’t ask for something if you get frustrated enough to hang up.

My recommendations for making sure you get what you deserve:

  1. Ask for a refund or a credit: your ISP is looking out for their bottom-line and not your best interest.
  2. Hang in there; don’t let a long wait time deter you from getting your chance to demand a refund or credit. 
  3. When a support rep tells you things are fixed, always test before hanging up. Otherwise, it could be a long wait to speak to another person… and you are more likely to give up.
Editor3 Ways Your ISP May Empty Your Pockets During an Internet Outage (Ahem, CenturyLink)