Reading the Fine Print

I live on a lake and as I have learned over time, internet access on a lake is problematic because running a cable around lakes is sometimes hard. Of course, I sort of need good internet access because we are an internet-based business so I have to find solutions. At present, one of the few solutions I have outside of pathetically slow and inconsistent DSL is a business ethernet solution through Windstream. It is a remarkably expensive solution, though. I am embarrassed to say this, but I currently pay $200/month for a 3Mb connection. To put that in perspective, you can just barely stream an online movie at 3Mb and many of you probably get up to 100Mb in bandwidth for well less than $100/month.

Over the past week, I have been bickering with Windstream about a new contract for a 10Mb connection in the range of $500/month for 5 years. Eventually we sort of settled on the big stuff and then they sent over a contract to sign. Here is a clause from the contract:

2. Charges for Services. Charges are set forth on a proposal or assessed as Services are used by Customer (i.e., features, installation/repair, including after-hours installation, long distance (rounded up to next cent), etc.). Customer is responsible for all permissible taxes, surcharges, fees, and assessments that apply to Services, including how those may change in the future, and regardless of whether such charges are identified in the Agreement. Customer shall pay all charges if WIN or a third party provider is required to extend the demarcation point, delay installation due to Customer, or undertake special construction. WIN RESERVES THE RIGHT TO INCREASE OR DECREASE MONTHLY RECURRING CHARGES (“MRCS”) ON AT LEAST THIRTY (30) DAYS’ NOTICE AND OTHER RATES AT ANY TIME.

There are two major problems with this single clause. Take a second to see if you can identify them.

First of all, there is significant ambiguity about what the charges are. For example, note the second to last sentence where it basically obligates the customer to pay for “special construction” but does not define what special construction is or how much it might be. That could be significant. It is not cheap to run cable. In fact, if for some reason more cable was required, special construction could be tens of thousands of dollars.

Second, the last line is laughable. Windstream wants me to sign a 5-year contract that does not even guarantee the price. In other words, based on the wording of this contract, they could raise the price of the contract to $5000/month during the second month and I would be stuck paying $5000/month for almost five years. (Later in the contract, they state that if I terminate for basically any reason, I owe the full amount of all remaining months.)

This is of course absurd. I wrote back and told them I would sign this deal if I also had the right to change the monthly charge at any time. That was tongue-in-cheek of course and the sales rep did not appreciate it. They responded with vague assurances that they would not raise the price. I told them that the deal was off.

They may come back and give in. I don’t know if they will or not but I won’t compromise on this. They will change that wording or I won’t sign the deal. Be very careful of fine print. I have learned the hard way that companies write contracts that are very one-sided and that can hurt you badly. You do not have to sign nonsensical contracts. Negotiate them and never ever take verbal assurances that they will not enforce the contract as written.

You have to protect yourself. No one else is going to do that for you.

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