An internet package that you sign up for now and the price will never increase for the rest of your life. It sounds great, doesn't it?
Well that's what CenturyLink is offering, and I felt compelled to look into it when I was exposed to a barrage of "Price for Life" ads during breaks in the Vikings-Bears game.
The deal is available to those living in the Twin Cities metro area, with CenturyLink currently offering three speeds of internet at 20, 40 and 100mbps, at prices ranging from $45 to $65 a month.
Customers who sign up don't have to lock themselves into a long contract – it's month-to-month – and it doesn't charge you a fee when you cancel.
At $55 a month for 50mbps internet, it's more expensive than Comcast ($47.47 a month over 2 years for 55mbps) and U.S. Internet ($34.99 per month for 50mbps).
But the attraction of Price for Life is the protection from surprise price hikes.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? I certainly thought so, and when you look at the small print on the CenturyLink website, I was right to be worried.
So what's the catch?
CenturyLink is pretty up front about a couple of conditions on the deal.
Firstly, customers can only keep their Price for Life provided they don't change address or the broadband deal they're on.
So if you sign up and then move house a year later, the Price for Life deal is void and you'll end up with a more expensive internet deal.
The same thing happens if you want to increase your internet speed. This is a sneaky bit of marketing from CenturyLink because this actively encourages you to sign up for its faster, more expensive internet knowing the price won't go up, rather than slower, cheaper plans that you might want to change in a few years.
A couple of other caveats squirreled away in the small print will also cancel your Price for Life deal.
This includes if you suspend your internet temporarily if you're going to be away from home for extended period of time, via CenturyLink's "Vacation Program," or if your service is disconnected.
Here's where it gets worrying
So we know that a change of address, broadband deal, vacation service suspension and disconnection will see you lose your Price for Life deal
The problem with the fine print in the Price for Life deal is that it gives CenturyLink a lot of wiggle room to change things up for other reasons.
In fact it says the Price for Life offer "terminates if customer changes their account in any manner."
That is disconcertingly vague, and I spoke to Randall P. Ryder of the Ryder Law Firm in Minneapolis, who told me "there appear to be a number of provisions that would allow CenturyLink to negate the deal."
"Given the myriad of requirements, it would appear relatively easy for a consumer to unintentionally terminate the offer," he says.
My concern increased further when I saw the following line in the fine print:
"CenturyLink may change, cancel, or substitute offers and services, or vary them by service area, at its sole discretion without notice."
Alarm bells sound immediately when I see that. It looks to me that it gives CenturyLink carte blanche to make changes to your internet service at the drop of a hat.
What does CenturyLink say?
GoMN asked CenturyLink if the fine print means it has the legal right to change a customer's internet deal even if they've followed all the rules. The company says it uses this language for all of its products.
"This language states that if we no longer can or want to have an offer in a market we can deselect that offer," a spokesperson said. "It also gives us the flexibility to have different offer requirements or different pricing for the same offer in various locations."
"Related to Price For life, we have the ability to change the terms of the Price For Life offer for new customers who have not yet signed up, but for customers who already have the offer, we would not change the terms."
"With Price For Life, the monthly rate won’t change unless a customer falls into one of the exceptions listed in the disclaimer." (Which we explained above).
The crucial part is where CenturyLink says "we would not change the terms" for existing customers, which isn't the definitive legal yes-or-no answer I was looking for.
It looks like it's asking customers to take it on faith that their internet deal won't change in price, so you just have to hope the company is true to its word.
Still, it's not a bad deal
To be fair to CenturyLink, for all the caveats, Price for Life isn't that bad a deal.
One of the better things about it is that you can sign up for a month-to-month contract and you don't get charged if you want to cancel.
So even if something happens that ends the Price for Life deal, it's easy to get out of and you can shop around for internet at other providers.
What's more, if you use the offer properly, locking in a Price for Life deal could save you a fair amount of money in the long-run, considering cable-internet giants like Charter and Comcast have been hiking their broadband prices to compensate for all the cable customers they're losing.
But as with any product with long-term financial implications, check and double check the fine print so you're as familiar as possible about what you're getting into.