A shocking problem with DirecTV

Patricia Wilson’s TVs are blown out. DirecTV blames her internal wiring, but she thinks the company has something to do with it. Now they’re at an impasse. Or are they?

Question: I have been caught up in a nearly month-long claim with DirecTV over faulty equipment, and I’m hoping you can help. We had two TVs blown, two receivers blown, and a fried HDMI cable. A DirecTV supervisor inspected my house and concluded that their coaxial cable was “hot” at 121 volts. But after not locating the source, they packed their bags and told us it was an electrical problem on our side.

The funny part is these supervisors took apart the dish and took with them the transmitter and conveniently pulled the “hot” cable out of the house. A DirecTV damage claims representative even told me the items taken were not for them to take, since technically these are my items when I sign their contract. The supervisors provided no explanation for why they did this. I’m left to assume something was faulty with either or both of these items.

I am now trying to get a hard copy of the claim rejection from DirecTV, but they are not returning voice mails or emails. We are still paying for service as if everything was working fine and can only avoid being charged if we completely freeze service at my location until things are resolved. But we have a functioning dish and TV in the garage and have been using this in the meantime.

I should note that DirecTV’s supervisors confirmed this garage dish was not installed properly and is missing a grounding wire, something its damage claims department was made aware of but chose not to address.

I am at a loss on how to move forward. Any assistance you might be able to provide would be so appreciated. — Patricia Wilson, Los Angeles

Answer: Whether it was the wiring or electricity in your home that was to blame for this dust-up, you deserve a straight answer from DirecTV about your service.

I can’t tell based on a reading of your account what might have gone wrong. To be honest, even if I could pay you a visit in person, I wouldn’t know the difference between an electrical problem or a shoddy DirecTV installation. To paraphrase Dr. McCoy, I’m a consumer advocate, not an electrician!

Here’s what I do know: Based on your account, if a DirecTV supervisor showed up and removed some equipment, then we may never have a smoking gun — or in your case, a smouldering wire — if, indeed, there’s one to be found. The employee may have tampered with the evidence, so to speak.

Why get rid of the equipment? Well, some DirecTV dishes have reportedly been improperly installed, creating a potential fire hazard. Maybe these supervisors were covering their tracks on an improper installation.

You shouldn’t have to pay for service you can’t use, and DirecTV should respond to your emails and calls instead of stonewalling you. I’m not entirely sure the company was giving you the cold shoulder, though. Your case came through during the busy holiday period, when supervisors tend to take time off. I’m hopeful that eventually DirecTV would have answered your questions.

By the way, you may also consider calling an experienced electrician to verify that your home is properly wired. If the initial supervisor is correct, then there may be a more serious problem than a non-working subscription TV service.

If you ever feel you’re being ignored by the company again, you can always contact one of DirecTV’s executives. I list them on my consumer advocacy site.

I contacted DirecTV on your behalf. The company offered to pay $464 for one of your damaged TVs and agreed to consider covering your electrician’s bill. DirecTV also replaced the dish, cabling and receiver in your home.

Who do you think is to blame for this mess?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Richard

    No way 120vac on the coax can come from anything other than the DirectTV box. Unless some idiot plugged the coax into the wall, in which case there would never have been a TV signal. Plus, the ungrounded installation in the garage is evidence of shoddy workmanship. Had the defective unit been properly grounded, a fuse would have blown instead of the TV.

  • Charles Owen

    This is most likely a problem with the wiring in the home and should be checked out, though there may have also been a problem with how the DirecTV service was installed. The power wires in your home have three wires in them: hot, neutral, and ground. The ground wires are all connected together in the panel to some home ground point, usually a rod in the ground outside. If the connection for one of those grounds breaks, either at the panel or in any of the boxes in the house, the ground wire floats. If there is even a high resistive path from a hot wire, the line can have high potential on it. Some moisture, mold, cobwebs, and many other things can create that path. Sometimes the ground wires break off and actually touch a hot wire in a box. This is easy for an electrician to test, BTW. Proper grounding of the DirecTV dish could have possibly shown the problem due to a breaker tripping, but not necessarily.

    Suppose this happens in your home and you plug in two connected devices, such as a satellite receiver and a television. If one is plugged into a properly grounded outlet and the other into some outlet where the ground wire has potential, there will be a current flow between the devices along wiring not designed for that much potential or current and often something gets fried.

  • John Baker

    This is a case of “I just don’t know.” It could be that the unit was never installed correctly and wasn’t grounded. It could also be that the ground in the house is malfunctioning. Either way, the statements made by the repair techs and the path of destruction seems to follow the DirectTV equipment and I would think it would be their responsibility to rule out issue within their control (installation or faulty equipment vs building error). I couldn’t vote.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It’d be nice to know how long ago the install had been prior to this happening. The letter doesn’t say. I’m inclined to think it had to be DirecTV because of them admitting things were installed incorrectly but it might change my mind if the OP had recently had wiring work done (like this was in a gameroom addition) or it was a brand new house.

  • Alan Gore

    As an IT tech, I can tell even from this distance that DirecTV did not bother to secure a ground. Their case is zapped.

    The ground in a home’s wiring can fail too, but when this happens other appliances in the house will start behaving oddly, and you will even see room lights flickering and spontaneously dimming.

  • John Baker

    Alan … How can you rule out that the OP’s ground to the cable equipment isn’t the issue? It could equally be true that DirectTV is connected to ground in the OPs house wiring but that ground isn’t connected. Its obvious that the box is probably not grounded but hard to say why it isn’t grounded.

  • Kairho

    I’d just like to know where the “transmitter” came from! Going to chalk it up to not knowing the proper names for parts.

  • emanon256

    I voted for direct TV, I don’t think it would be possible for the coax to be hot like that unless something was really crewed up in one the the Direct TV receivers.

    A few years ago we got rid of all but 1 TV and about a year ago we got rid of everything but local channels. I hardly watch anything now, except, on occasion, the evening news or jeopardy. I also stream the occasional movie or show via an on-line rental and someone gave me Homeland on DVD as a gift. I’ll tell you what, I don’t miss all the channels, and I don’t miss all the hassle. It has made my life much simpler, and much better.

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    This could be several things. If the cable installer stapled or nailed te cable in place, they may have inadvertently hit a power cable. Most of the time these cables run along the 2X4 stud in the wall or through the stud. If it goes through, the electrician should put a metal plate in front of it to protect the cable.
    Or it could be a problem with a badly designed cable box coupled with an incorrectly installed outlet. Most 110 volt homes have a hot (black cable ) a neutral (white cable) and a ground ( are or green). Sometimes here is a red cable as well.

    The neutral and ground are usually joined together in the fuse panel. If the outlet is wired backwards then what *should* be ground in the cable box is now hot. If the cable box is poorly designed, then it is possible that 110 could make it’s way to the coax connector. I would get a new box and have an electrician come out and verify the cabling in the house.

  • omgstfualready

    No hockey???? That’s impossible!

  • omgstfualready

    I blame loyalty programs. :-)

  • llandyw

    A note regarding 120V wiring. A house has 2 wires entering it from the transformer. The third line is ground, but is not directly connected to the house. This is provided by… The ground.

    What’s coming in is 240V with each leg referencing ground to get 120. If that ground is missing, at either end (house or transformer), you have issues. If all devices draw the same amount of current, and are all on at the same time, no problem. However, if you have say a washing machine on one leg and a light bulb on the other, you have problems. Effective voltage at the light bulb will be much higher than at the washing machine. The ground provides the middle reference. This keeps the voltage at each 120V device at the same level.

    I have lived in a house that was missing the ground at the house, and that was something I fixed immediately. I’m surprised nobody got killed as I read the floating ground pin to be 70V at one point. This of course would vary depending on what was on and what wasn’t. Installed 2 ground rods (local code requirement), and everything went to normal.

    A friend had the opposite happen. The ground was lost at the pole. They had the issue of very bright light bulbs and pretty much everything not working. Took over a week before someone finally figured it out.

    As for the issue here.. I’d say ground issue. One outlet was on one leg of the 240 and the other was on the other, yet they ended up connecting the “ground” through the connecting cable between devices (say dish and TV). So, first thing to do is check for a floating ground.

    By the way, if you have sandy ground and dry conditions, a regular ground rod may not be enough. The third line may have to be run to the transformer.

  • EdB

    The moment those supervisors took the equipment that belongs to the consumer, DirecTV became responsible for the failure and should make the OP whole by replacing everything damaged.

  • emanon256

    Bars, Friends Houses, and going to the actual games :) It was hard at first, but I am fine with it now.

  • Joe Blasi

    or maybe a bad directv power inserter

  • Owassonian

    I like the twist in the end, ‘agreed to consider covering your electrician’s bill’. It’s amazing to see the fine line between a full promise and a conditional one.

  • Mark Cuban

    There’s nothing in the dish or the wiring to the box that could possibly generate that kind of voltage. There is a current in the coax but its usually around 10 volts DC. This is clearly a poorly grounded house. In all likelihood the dish was properly grounded and the house was grounding through it.

    If you research this in the tech forums you will see this happen all the time with old two wired systems. DirecTV was correct in pulling their product out of a faulty wired house.

  • Mark Cuban

    Older homes were wired with two wires, hot and neutral. It’s probable that the dish was the only thing in the entire home circuit that was properly grounded.

  • Mark Cuban

    DirecTV techs are not electricians, and they have no business telling a homeowner that their wiring is faulty. They did the right thing by getting out of there.

  • Carver Clark Farrow


  • Mark Cuban

    Or the dish was installed and grounded correctly and was the only ground on the house circuits. That would explain the hot wire and the other appliances may not have acted oddly.

  • Mark Cuban

    Maybe it was too expensive to litigate even if they were right. Cheaper to write a check and get rid of the problem.

  • Mark Cuban

    That makes no sense. Removing the equipment proves zero.

  • VoR61

    Agreed. That is a “definite maybe” …

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It’s not definitive, but it’s highly suspicious. DirecTV has admitted to faulty installation and told the OP that those items shouldn’t have been taken out of the home because they actually belonged to her. It sounds like even if it wasn’t their fault, the guys on the scene were scared it might be so they wanted to get the evidence out of sight.

  • llandyw

    Actually, the voltage in the cable (not the shield) is 2V P-P meaning it’s not supposed to go over 1 volt positive or negative. If you go higher than that, the automatic gain control (AGC) will kick in.

  • jim6555

    Why then didn’t the technicians explain to the customer the reason for them REMOVING HER PROPERTY? Direct TV became vulnerable when they removed evidence. I think that Ms. Wilson will have an excellent chance of recovering monetary damages for her damaged televisions and receivers plus the property that Direct TV stole from her when she takes the matter to small claims court.

  • EdB

    Joe presented the logic behind my statement very clearly. It makes perfect sense.

  • Cybrsk8r

    But the way I see it, by removing the equipment, DirecTV broke their side of the contract, and if the OP wants out, I don’t see how DirecTV collects a termination fee.

  • Alan Gore

    The situation you’re describing is “bonding” or connecting the house ground to the DirectTV equipment ground. If this had been done and the house ground were floating, the symptoms I cited would be occurring house-wide, but there would be no zapping of house electronics connected to the DirecTV cable.

  • Helio

    I believe you are making some confusion with ground and neutral wires.

  • llandyw

    “neutral” would be a third wire entering the house from the transformer, not going through ground. There is no confusion here. “neutral” is, by all building codes I know about, connected to ground. Even in 3 phase (delta or Y), the “neutral” is connected to ground (except in vehicles, aircraft, ships) where there is actually a neutral bus. This bus would be connected to the hull, frame, body of the vehicle). In the case of a fixed object, ground and neutral are supposed to be at ground level.

    Ground fault detectors can detect a floating ground where the physical ground and the ground coming from the fuse/breaker box that are carried on separate conductors by checking for a voltage difference between the 2 wires. If the ground goes away, or the “neutral” ends up with a non-zero, outside a rather low tolerance, the circuit is interrupted for safety. The tolerance is because of resistive losses in the wiring itself. Loss of the ground would cause a fairly significant voltage to show up on the white side.

    Anyway, I know the difference between neutral and ground. There is no difference unless the physical ground is lost.

  • Helio

    When a device was a plug with two posts, like an iPhone recharger, these posts are for a hot (phase) wire and a neutral (for 110V) or hot and hot wires (for 220V). Not hot and ground. If you did this kind of circuit, and it is working “fine”, you may have a (serious) problem…

    If you lost your ground, you may not have problems. But if you lost your neutral (in a 110V circuit), you must have problems.

  • llandyw

    Better look again. The “neutral” is connected to ground. Look at the wires coming in from the pole. There’s only 2. (yes, you’ll try and tell me there’s 3, but the “third” wire is nothing but a support wire and carrys no current.) Since the “neutral” is carried through the earth ground to the pole losing the earth ground will cause you problems. Why do you think ground fault interrupters use earth ground as their reference? Ask any electrician, they’ll tell you the same thing.

  • Helio

    Yes, the worst problem not having the 3rd. wire is maybe receiving a shock if touching a metal case. Not a big problem indeed.

    I agree that the neutral is grounded, but if you lose the neutral’s connection with the pole, even grounded, you will have the problem you describe. It won’t be a ground problem, it will be a circuit problem.

    If you lose the neutral connection with the ground, but it remains connected with the pole, you may or may not have problems. Probably not, because the pole is supposed to be grounded too.

  • Starla

    I had to order a new replacement box because we were having trouble with the old one.
    I connected the new one, turned on the tv and my tv blew!
    I have a Sony, the projector lamp is what blew!
    My tv was working just fine until I started up the new box.

  • Sully

    I ASSURE YOU THIS IS AN ISSUE WITH DIRECTV!!! I had my 3 month old 65″ LED Samsung HDMI board blown twice in 1 week. I also lost Network/HDMI board on my 2 month old High End Yamaha AV Receiver. I decided to make DirecTV bring a replacement DVR for that location to eliminate any possible issues in that chain of equipment. They said no problem and sent a tech out. I have 4 boxes total with DirecTV. 2 HD DVR’s (one is original Genie connected to the AV Receiver and Samsung TV) and two of the smaller non DVR HD receivers (MBath and Lanai). When the tech showed up, he had 3 boxes with him. I asked why, he explained that they have been having issue with back feeding with that setup. They want to swap the 2 DVR’s and one of the non DVR HD receivers. My TV was still out as the second HDMI board had not yet arrived. So, they refused to do any of the work without the TV in that location working. NICE!! So, I am waiting but wanted to pass that along. I have no doubt it was DirecTV that blew out this equipment. TWICE!! GL with your fight!! Luckily, Samsung and Yamaha are covering the P&L. What a pain in the ass though. You are far from alone is my guess!!! My original (Samsung sent him to house) TV repair man said he has been replacing tons of HDMI boards on various brands of TV’s that are connected to DirecTV. I smell a class action in the making.