Help! DirecTV is holding my TV hostage

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After a series of technical problems and a move, Sean Reeves ends up with a DirecTV contract he never asked for. Can he get out of it without paying a termination fee?

Question: Please help! My girlfriend and I are desperate! DirecTV is making us pay for service we can’t use.

We had originally signed up for a two-year contract from DirecTV in 2012. There was a technical issue with our SD receiver. After having it replaced once, and with the issue persisting, DirecTV offered us a free upgrade to an HD receiver because the SD ones were having a known issue.

We told them we did not want to pay $10 a month for HD service, and they offered three months free and insisted we could downgrade back to SD at the end of that period.

Later, we found out that they had extended our contract without telling us, just for getting a new DVR. One person swore they reversed that, but later we found out that was a lie.

Then, later that year, we moved, and DirecTV very graciously offered to waive the moving fee. The problem is that they demand a new two-year contract be signed — just to move!

Since we already had one unauthorized contract extension, this would put our service end date well into 2015. There is no way that is acceptable. So we moved and took our receiver. It is now sitting in a closet and we are paying $50 a month for TV service we can’t watch because we are on a budget and flat out can’t afford the $250 they quoted to end the contract.

Please help. We are desperate. I feel like they have to be breaking some law. How can they refuse to transfer my service, with or without fee, unless I sign a new contract? — Sean Reeves, Draper, Utah

Answer: You’re right, it doesn’t seem fair, but whenever you make a change to your DirecTV contract — even a minor one — you have to agree to another two-year term. Your case is a little bit egregious, since you couldn’t really control the technical problems and had no way of knowing that your move would trigger another two-year extension, unless you spent some quality time with the fine print. And who has time for that?

DirecTV is hardly the only company to do that. Cell phone companies also demand these types of contract extensions. For example, if I wanted an iPhone 6 this fall, I’d have to agree to a new two-year contract with AT&T. If I want to change my call plan — boom! — two more years. If I sneeze? Two years. OK, maybe not, but you get the point.

While companies, their lawyers, and corporate apologists love these rules, customers generally hate them. They want the flexibility to switch when they don’t like the service they’re getting. I think they deserve to have that flexibility, but then, I’m just a consumer advocate.

As far as I can tell, DirecTV’s customer agreement — the contract between you and the subscription TV company — doesn’t specifically address a required two-year re-up. You’re only informed of that requirement when you agree to extend the service. And again, you would have to pay close attention.

Based on your initial description of the problem, I wasn’t sure what had gone wrong, so I decided to ask DirecTV to check its records. According to its files, you accepted a “free” upgrade — their words — to a DIRECTV Plus HD DVR in 2012. At that time, your girlfriend accepted all the terms and conditions for the 24-month programming agreement with DirecTV’s third party verification department.

After I contacted DirecTV, it credited you with its movers fee and issued a $126 credit plus tax for time without service. A representative also explained why a new one-year agreement is required with a move. To make up for the trouble, DirecTV upgraded your service from its family plan to its “select” plan, with a 12-month $10 discount and a six-month $5 discount.

That seems like an exceptionally generous resolution.

Should mandatory contract extensions for subscription TV service be legal?

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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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Nathan Witt

    They pulled something similar on me, and Chris saved my bacon. In my case, the original installer upsold me on a service plan that included service visits by technicians. I asked him at the time whether that covered moves, because I knew I’d be moving. He said it did. I know, get it in writing. When I did move, DirecTV claimed that my service plan, for which I’d been paying monthly, didn’t cover moves, and that since I hadn’t been with them long enough, they wouldn’t cover the move, even with a contract extension, and that I’d have to pay $299 to have the equipment installed in my new house. Oh, and if I didn’t pay the $299, I’d still have to pay for the service for the duration of my contract, even though I’d have no dish. Chris managed to get them to waive the moving fee in exchange for a contract extension after I had gotten a firm “No.” from everyone I could reach. I guess the moral of these stories is that DirecTV is only good for you if you never plan on moving. Or upgrading your equipment – which also begs the question, if I have to pay $99 for the receiver when I sign up, and $10/mo to use the receiver, why do I have to sign a contract extension to get an upgraded one? Whose receiver is it?

  • cahdot

    direct tv is still very $$$$ and we keep getting less channels and no dvr.. also if u do not use a tv in a room for 3 weeks they turn it off even whenu are paying the monthly hefty rate and the$6.00 ripoff for the receiver in that room… cahdot

  • Rebecca

    I switched to prepaid also. I have tmobile and my husband has at&t (they have the phone he wants). Both of our bills are $50/month for unlimited with 2gb of data. And that’s really $50, no taxes and fees added. While the phones are anywhere from $300-$600 upfront, the monthly bill is significantly cheaper for the exact same plan under contract. Over 2 years, it saves well over $1000. The upfront cost for the phone is high, but you end up paying that anyways in yhe two years.

    My husband also likes a new phone every 6-9 months, and we can get back an average of about 50% by selling it on craigs list. Its about 25% if you sell to a dealer, kiosk, online, etc. Then that goes towards the new phone. Its actually the reason we switched in the first place, and I worked out the numbers because I was curious. Our savings when I last checked was $700/year.

  • AH

    yeah, and you’re a lawyer, so you probably read all the tiny, fine print clauses in your contract! (if you got one, which i never really did with verizon. i might be moving in the next 6 months, after 5 years at this address, and i sure hope i’m not going to get dinged with some termination fee because of some “auto-renew” clause in the original contract.)

  • innchfromnj

    When Directv replaces a receiver and the receiver is an upgrade, it starts a new two year agreement. This is spelled out in the contract at the time of the initial install.
    This has been company policy for years.
    Note. I was in the satellite business for 12 years

  • innchfromnj

    The cost of the new satellite antenna, labor and materials.
    It may say “free install” but that simply means no out of pocket expense.
    One way or another the provider is going to get paid because it is incurring an expense

  • innchfromnj

    Unfortunately, there is no self install option any longer. Too many customers went that route. They found they could not get the job done and requested a service call ( free of charge) which triggered a truck roll. In many instances the tech had to re install the entire system. This added costs, so Directv terminated self installs.
    Now, one CAN do it themselves, but they must BUY the equipment.

  • innchfromnj

    You would not believe how important tv is to some people.
    I could offer up a myriad of stories about people and their addiction to tv.
    Just one…..I installed a system on a single wide to a woman who obviously had less than two nickels to rub together. 4 kids, all little. Getting the highest channel package. She had NO telephone in the home. No cell either. I asked if I could use her phone to activate programming. She said “it got cut off”…This means “you didn’t pay the bill”…

  • innchfromnj

    And to make sure the receivers were located where the customer claimed they were. The NFL was a big part of that. With the Sunday Ticket, bar owners were setting up residential accounts and then taking the receivers to their business and using them there. That was just one scam.

  • innchfromnj

    That requirement has not been in force for years

  • innchfromnj

    They do

  • The Original Joe S

    Doesn’t matter if it’s not been in force for years. They made me angry three times – they’re Oh-You-Tee OUT!

    It’s amazing how they called back within about 45 minutes after Miss Nasty blew me off, trying to exhort me to return to sending them money. I rather thought the guy was a dolt in that I told him I’d just returned from the cable company office with their cable box and hooked it up, and he kept asking me what he could do to get me to come back. They should have thought of that when Ms Nasty did her disdainful dismissal of me.

    After he asked me for the third time, I told him he could stand on his head, spit wooden nickels and whistle “Dixie” and I still wouldn’t change my mind.

    Just as in the restaurant business: when a customer gets exercised, the restaurant drops off his radar screen. I had a bad experience in Olive Garden about 30 years ago, and haven’t been back since. Pass it often; don’t even notice that it’s there.

    Subway sandwiches used to have meat in ‘em about the thickness of onion-skin typing paper [remember that? :-) ]. I haven’t been in one of those places in at least 20 years, even though I’ve been told that they have improved their bread sandwiches to include substantive fillings. There’re many other places to go; they got on my black list and I see no reason to remove ‘em.

  • The Original Joe S

    What bottom-feeding company will promise you stuff, blow you off when you agree to the deal, and then kiss your stern ramp as you sail off into the sunset?

  • The Original Joe S

    I bought my standard def boxes and dish from Radio Shack. Dish is still up there. Birds like to sit on it.

  • The Original Joe S

    Gee. $2.99 for the download, and $500 for the device. What a deal! :-)

  • The Original Joe S

    File a change of address form with the post office saying you moved to Alaska. Then file one in Alaska saying you went to Hawai’i. Then file another saying you went to Little America with the penguins.

  • The Original Joe S

    As I wrote above, Bye Bye to them!

  • aerix88

    Just a point of contention on the note re: cell phone companies extending contracts. While new equipment at a discounted rate from one of the Big 3 will typically extend the contract, simply changing a calling plan usually will not.

    Now, I say usually because there are sometimes (but very rarely) promotions that are only available with new or extended contracts. I haven’t seen those in a very long time though, and I’ve been in telecommunications since 2006. But if you want to go up or down in size for the bundle you currently pay for, I would say better than 95% of the time a new contract or extension is not required.