Worst Company In America Round One: Charter Vs. CenturyLink (Qwest)

Here’s a pair of middleweight marauders that some of you may not be familiar with, but who still managed to engender enough ill will from Consumerist readers to earn a chance to prove their awfulness in the business world bloodbath called the Worst Company In America 2012 Tournament.

In 2011, Charter didn’t stand a chance of making it to the Sweet 16 when it came up against then-reigning champ Comcast. First, the Lords of Kabletown tried to convince all of their employees to cast their votes against the smaller company. Well… that plan didn’t work out exactly as they’d hoped, after numerous Comcast staffers tipped us to their bosses’ machinations. And after the voting public heard about Comcast’s attempt to game the tournament, it got ugly and Comcast was voted into the next round by one of the largest margins in WCIA’s storied history.

But Charter’s inclusion in this year’s tournament is no pity placement. We still field regular complaints about the company’s billing and service. There was also that whole thing with Charter CSRs telling tornado victims in Alabama that they’d need to locate and return their cable boxes.

That might explain why on a recent survey of the trustworthiness of 143 businesses, Charter came in not just dead last for its cable service, but also next-to-last for its Internet service.

We haven’t written much about CenturyLink, or even Qwest, though the merger of the two companies did create one of the largest telecom companies in the country. And it looks like customers don’t care what brand you put on their service if it still stinks.

Consumerist reader Robert’s reasons for nominating CenturyLink seem to represent the majority opinion of everyone who wanted to see the company make its WCIA debut: “Poor service, bad speeds, indifferent and inept techs and a maze of billing issues where the reference number they give you on a payment can’t be used to verify you made the payment after they lost it.”

This sentiment is echoed by Michael, who wrote in to say, “Their customer service is incompetent and they have a department for EVERYTHING. One person can not answer two questions. I couldn’t even have a billing person answer a question about the current rates of other plans… Their customer service is not service at all.”

So is this the year that Charter proves to the nation why it belongs in the WCIA Octagon of Shame? Or will the new kid on the bracket surprise everyone with a knockout blow?

VOTING FOR THIS POLL IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO CHARTER — WE’LL SEE YOU IN THE SWEET 16!

This is a post in our Worst Company In America 2012 series. The companies competing for this honor were chosen by you, the readers. See the entire WCIA 2012 bracket and schedule of match-ups HERE.

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  1. scoutermac says:

    I’ve had Charter and they were bad. But not as bad as Comcast. I’ve never had CenturyLink.

  2. ThinkingBrian says:

    To be honest, I have never been a customer of CenturyLink (Qwest), however my family does use Charter Communications and their billing of never ending fees, their terrible equipment especially if you return a DVR, you don’t know what you’re going to get in return and there secret pricing makes them a big contender for worst company of 2012 for sure.

    • longfeltwant says:

      For years and years I thought that cable modems were cheap and unreliable. Then I bought my own, instead of getting yet another replacement from my cable company, and I have had 100% uptime for over a year. Now I realize that cable companies merely use cheap shitty hardware, then charge customers for home visits to fix it.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        i recently replaced my cable modem myself too. TWC kept telling me my modem was fine. after i replaced the modem and called to get my modem’s MAC address added, the level 3 tech laughed at the model i’d upgraded from and told me they stopped making them in 2002 and mine was supposed to be swapped out in 2010, they just never bothered to let me know.
        loving MY new modem, even if TWC doesn’t have docsis 3.0 capability in my area yet to fully utilize the functionality

  3. tbax929 says:

    I have had Qwest for several years without incident. If I could only get them to stop spamming me with marketing material, despite my repeated requests that they remove me from the marketing list, I’d be completely fine with them. Of course, I only use them for my land line. I have my internet through Cox.

    I’m throwing a vote to Charter just based on stories I’ve read here. They seem to be worse than Qwest.

  4. ThunderRoad says:

    For what it’s worth, Charter has gotten a lot of their shit together in the last few months with regards to customer service after taking a lot of legitimate heat. I think 2012 will be much-improved in terms of their support and may get them out of the brackets next year.

    of course, the proof is in the results, but I do know they have seen the light that good service is a good thing, and are making strides.

    • elangomatt says:

      They will probably be in this tournament pretty much every year. No matter how much a cable/ISP tries to improve their service, they will always be plenty of people unhappy with them. I have Comcast at home and my only complaint about them is the price on the bill, everything else has been pretty painless even with going through 2 DVRs and a cable modem (easy exchanges at the local cable office, back up and running within an hour).

  5. Hungry Dog says:

    Qwest now Century Link is terrible. They constantly mail spam for services and my connection fails randomly. When I call for them to troubleshoot they try to upsell me the entire time. I usually ask them if the upgrade will be as reliable as current services and they usually get quiet. I know it’s the mothership telling them to upsell but it still is annoying to listen to the spiel when trying to get to tech support.

    • nugatory says:

      yep, this is exactly my experience with them too. I’ve had their techs out many times and they say the issue is “fixed” but of course I still get random events where I loose my connection.

    • sixsevenco says:

      I shamed them on Twitter and got quite a positive response.

      The upgraded me to VDSL, which improved speed and reliability. Using their speedtest tool, I went from 30% loss from my provisioned speed to 3-4%. Their guidelines say you should allow for up to 20% loss. They also gave me the Q1000 modem needed for VDSL for free. I’m thrilled with Century Link.

  6. anime_runs_my_life says:

    Having had Charter, I would rather cut my left arm off before going back to them. I don’t care if they’ve “improved”. They’ve tried to improve in the past and it just ends up being a huge clustermess.

  7. vorpalette says:

    I’ve had Charter for a couple of years. They aren’t awesome by any means–we had random outages last summer, the tech they sent out to fix one of those was a complete moron, and my fiance ended up fixing the issue himself, and their billing is awful (I paid our bill a couple of days late, they sent me a paper bill because of it, that said I owed twice what I normally do; turns out that’s because they were combining that month AND the next month). However, any time I’ve had a problem, their customer service has reached out (I usually bitch on Twitter), their chat is usually helpful, and the people at our local office are generally nice.

    I’m just thankful that I don’t have to deal with the service I had for two years through both of my old apartments (same management company). They bought a bunch of old Charter equipment and stuck it in a shed on the property. No techs, no one to help if anything went wrong.

  8. PunditGuy says:

    Qwest/CenturyLink pisses me off because they don’t want to compete. Comcast has 12Mbps service for roughly $55 a month, unbundled. CenturyLink wants something like $45 a month for naked DSL at 1.5Mbps. Yay! $10 a month savings… and not enough bandwidth for just Netflix, never mind anything else I may want to do at the same time my daughter is watching “Beakman’s World.”

    Their idea of video service? They’ll bundle their crappy DSL with DirecTV. I don’t need your help to sign up for DirecTV, you worthless excuse for a baby Bell.

    • sixsevenco says:

      Maybe they’ve changed their pricing, but I pay $46.99/month for 7Mbps dry-loop DSL. I have the price-for-life guarantee that Qwest once offered.

  9. MrObvious says:

    I have not had any experience with CenturyLink (Qwest) but they get my vote by default because I have Charter and have had nothing but good experiences with them.

  10. phaseunbalance says:

    Qwest was never more than the landline provider to me. I did not upgrade service or buy DSL because I could never obtain an honest price quote from any Qwest rep. Despite their claims to be high-tech, Qwest said its computers couldn’t predict taxes, fees, and surcharges, which were a whopping 50 percent of my landline bill. In order to see the price for any upgrade, I would first need to sign the contract then wait for the bill.

    When CenturyLink bought Qwest last year, I received no notification. I also stopped receiving my phone bill. It wasn’t until I called a Qwest rep that I learned Qwest had died and been replaced by CenturyLink. In the meantime, CenturyLink had continued drawing money from my checking account for phone service but had hiked the bottom-line price by 20 percent. So, I dumped CenturyLink then and there. I have no landline, and I don’t miss it.

  11. Mike says:

    I had Qwest for years. I had to quit and go to Cox after my phone went out, and after about 4 or 5 visits to fix it, they finally just refused to fix it. They declared it fixed even though someone else in my neighborhood and I had a party line because they crossed the wires somehow. I was forced to go to Cox to get a private line. I understand my neighbor did too. It’s something of a money saver, but a bit of a PITA when the cable goes out.

  12. Nighthawke says:

    Centurylink is a ripoff company that thrives on customer chaos and in dead-end communities that have no other option for service. Port Aransas for example, they cut a backroom deal with AT&T NOT to provide local dialup service to Corpus Christi. At the time, dialup was prevalent and cells were still a big dollar luxury. Even though the locals signed a petition to force them to start on it, they stalled and stalled. They claimed they sent out cards for people to vote with if they wanted local service to Corpus, they never arrived. They got around and sent out another batch (odds are they never did in the first place and nearly got caught). The vote was nearly unanimous, but AT&T said no, or so Centurylink claimed. A crock of warm crap. They cut a backroom deal that sealed the town’s fate until cheap cell service and long range wireless technologies came into play and pretty much painted the telecom into a corner with few options left for them to sell. I work for a company that provides wireless internet wholesale to the resorts at Port A and have heard nothing but bad things about Centurylink.

    To hell with them both. I voted Charter for they sold Port A to Time Warner.

  13. KidRey says:

    I’ve always had a bit of respect for Qwest because they refused to bend over for the Bush regime when it came to privacy.

    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/congressman-asks-justice-dept-about-qwest-wiretap-charges

  14. vivalakellye says:

    I’ve had CenturyLink for 6 months now. No issues, save that my checks from CL (and only CL) don’t get posted to my checking account’s “Recent Transactions.”

  15. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Aren’t both of these rather mutually exclusive? Given how cable/internet oligolopies work, are there instances someone may have actually been a customer of both without moving to a different state?

    Seems a pointless battle, decided only by which carrier more of us have used.

  16. FLConsumer says:

    Centurylink — Ordered a T3 loop from them in NOVEMBER 2011. Just got it going this week. They kept telling me it’d be only a couple more days… which is their lingo for “Before the 2nd coming”

  17. billpendry says:

    I voted for CentruyLink, because in my city we have a new-ish law that requires all utilities to move their lines underground. It’s in response to a major windstorm we had a few years ago that knocked out many services for up to two weeks. New lines are to be underground, and when existing lines need to be replaced they must be moved underground. CL protested this law, saying it costs too much money, even though the city does all the work and bills each private utility a fraction of what it costs and despite CL posting very healthy profits.

  18. z4ce says:

    As a Charter customer, who continues to get free upgrades to my internet service (I’m paying less for 30mbit service now than I was paying for 10mbit service 2yrs ago).. I could not be happier. I’ve got a feeling Charter still might win simply by number on this one. They have a lot more retail customers than centurylink, I’d imagine.

  19. chicagojeff says:

    Yawner. Neither one of these will last long. It is like watching Central Tennessee play UNC Wilmington with the winner going up against Kentucky.

    More importantly, does the Consumerist have an online gambling link where we can bet on the results? I would love some action on Comcast -63% over Time Warner tomorrow.

  20. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    also there is now WCIA bingo to play along with the comments
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/catastrophegirl/sets/72157629579153257/

  21. kingdom2000 says:

    As much as I would like to pile on Charter, I have had them for years and can’t really complain about the service levels. Had few internet or cable problems, even during harsh weather. Main complaint is pricing but from looking around they are sadly no different then any other cable company so that is more of a universal complaint then a charter specific one.

  22. Kaonashi says:

    My question is why isn’t Consumer Reports on the bracket? Arguably firing Ben Popken was pretty damaging to consumers.

  23. TasteyCat says:

    I have no opinion either good or bad about either. I have been trapped with Comcast pretty much for life.

  24. Elle86 says:

    Century Link 1: because I’ve never dealt with Charter and 2: because when ever I have a connection problem C.L. wants me to get a new modem, no trouble shooting, no wire checking (once a wire had in fact been cut), and no common sense.
    Their prices seem reasonable, I’m shocked not to see Cox Communications on the list! Then again, their name says it all.

  25. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I haven’t had either of these, so I can’t really pick one. Although the tornado victims’ cable box thing is kind of nudging me Charter’s way….

  26. jheyneman says:

    I’ve had CenturyLink, since moving out of Ohio (used to have Time Warner), for about 8 months. I signed up for their 12Mbps DSL service at $34.95 a month for 6 months and after that promo it was supposed to go up to $54.95. I politely called and spoke with a CSR in Idaho Falls (they told me it was “Beautiful Idaho Falls”) and I told them that I thought it was too expensive and that I’d simply just like to drop down to a slower speed to maintain a reasonable price. The woman on the phone asked what I did with my internet connection, to which I replied that I streamed movies using various services and did a lot of remote tech support. She said that she didn’t think my web experience would be good enough so they knocked my price down to $29.95 for 12 months.

    tl;dr I voted for Charter because CenturyLink gave me a huge discount.

  27. Thermopyle says:

    That header graphic makes it look like “The Consumerist: Worst Company in America 2012″.

    I don’t think The Consumerist is the worst company!

    • Kaonashi says:

      They did recently fire the man who created the company and led it to being one of the best consumer blogs in the world, that has to count as a major point against them.

  28. Superdemon says:

    Call CenturyLink with a problem. I dare you.

    I called with a problem with a fiber line at work and I took me 30 minutes to explain to the lady that I do not in fact have a $1600/month DSL line in my office. Turns out she wasn’t high enough up on the ladder to even seen my line let alone help me with it. Then I was forwarded to another moron with no idea. 45 minutes and 6 phone numbers later I finally got to a guy that told me it is broken due to some idiot cutting a fiber bundle 250 miles away. It was just epic fail all around.

  29. whgt says:

    How the hell do I vote?

    • scoosdad says:

      If you’ve installed a browser add-on that blocks web tracking bugs (such as Ghostery, like I did), go into the settings and uncheck PollDaddy. Refresh your browser a couple of times and the poll should show up again.

      Ironically I installed Ghostery because it came highly recommended here on Consumerist a few months back.

  30. scoosdad says:

    Charter came to my two family house about this time last year to install a new buried cable from the pedestal by the street directly uphill to the box on the side of the house, to replace one that was flaky and was affecting my cable reception intermittently.

    Instead of going in a straight line to the house via the utility existing corridor route that had been mapped out with little flags by the Dig Safe people (and where the existing cable was already buried), they inexplicably sent a Ditch-Witch trenching machine on a zig-zag path directly through my neighbor’s garden, then up the side of the driveway and zig back to the house, in the process destroying my neighbor’s emerging rose bushes and leaving deep tractor tread marks in the soft lawn alongside the driveway. I yelled at the subcontractor to stop immediately, and he just smiled and shrugged. He spoke no English and I didn’t speak his eastern European language. I called Charter’s supervisor, and he told me to tell the sub to stop digging immediately. More shrugs and smiles, and he kept right on going.

    By the time the supervisor showed up, the deed was done and the rose bushes were history. The supervisor from Charter tried to explain it by claiming he had been there a month earlier and there weren’t any roses there when he had been by. This was the beginning of March of 2011. You think there were any rose bushes showing from under the snowbanks that were there in early February of the worst winter my part of the northeast had seen in decades?

    Then he claimed they had to take that path because if they followed the flags, they would have had to dig by hand to avoid the other utility lines in the path. OK, fair enough, but the path they used with the machine that went through the garden, they had to dig by hand anyway when it crossed back over the utility lines on the way past the pedestal. If they had taken a slightly longer path and avoided the garden completely, they could have also avoided the hand digging. The cable would have been maybe 15 feet longer on a run that was about 50 feet total.

    One of these days I’m going to post my video of the event to YouTube. Classic cable company 100% fail. Now how do I vote for these clowns?

  31. alexwade says:

    Before Qwest bought Embarq, the customer service was really good. I haven’t dealt with Centurylink. But I do wonder where all these crazy names come from. I haven’t heard any complaints from Centurylink in my market. Maybe it is because they were already pretty good here to begin with.

  32. penuspenuspenus says:

    Had to vote for Charter because we don’t have Qwest. Only gripes:
    Had a few internet outages lately. Not for terribly long.
    They call me for some reason every few weeks while I am sleeping and never leave a message.

    But really, I don’t see Charter getting too far in this tournament.

  33. cyberpenguin says:

    I’ve been a customer of Charter (QWest) and a Comcast customer… and Comcast was better.

    Wow… hard to believe, but true. Even as I write this it’s hard to believe that if these two went head-to-head, based on personal experience I would vote for QWest.

  34. michelelyl says:

    I’ve had both Charter and Qwest/CenturyLink at home. I’m still with CenturyLink- and we use Charter at my office. Charter is AWFUL!! The Internet ‘goes down’ at least 2 times a week and when we call, they always say it must be our fault. Hello, we are a Church using their equipment. No problems with CenturyLink except the landline phone goes haywire once in a while because the DirecTV has to be plugged into the phone lines….strange. Oh well, the bundle price for Internet, Premium DirecTV, landline and Verizon package is awesome.