Why can’t I cancel my DirecTV contract?

Dmitri/Shutterstock
Dmitri/Shutterstock
Yan Qi wants to get out of her DirecTV contract — a contract she says she didn’t knowingly sign. Is there any hope for waiving its $380 early cancellation fee?

Question: I’ve been a DirecTV subscriber since October 2011. When we recently moved, a technician was unable to install DirecTV because of the trees around the house. He told us to call and cancel the account.

When we called, an agent told us our two-year contract hadn’t expired yet. She wanted us to still keep the original contract and schedule an advanced technician to install our service. We agreed, and the technician installed our new service.

A few months later, I called to cancel my DirecTV service because I was unhappy with its reduced Chinese programs. DirecTV charged me $380 for cancellation fees.

I called and sent e-mails to DirecTV, and was told we had signed another two-year contract, which started when we moved. An agent told me we had confirmed the two-year contract upon installation of our new service.

We weren’t told that we needed to sign another two-year contract when we moved. I don’t think it’s fair to charge $380 in cancellation penalties. Can you help?

Yan Qi, Williamsville, NY

Answer: Your agreement with DirecTV would have expired as advertised, allowing you to leave without paying its early termination fee. But you made a few changes to your contract when you moved, according to the company. It offered you a “free” HD upgrade and you also signed a lease addendum.

As DirecTV explains, in order to keep costs down for you, it offers its dishes and standard installation at “reduced or no cost” and in exchange it requires that you remain a customer for a specified period of time. You can read the entire lease addendum on DirecTV’s site.

The representative with whom you spoke should have told you that when you moved and were offered a “free” upgrade, you were also signing up for another two-year contract. You should have also reviewed the terms of your contract before signing again — it should have clearly disclosed your obligations.

Not to go off on a tangent, but by now I’m sure you realize there’s no such thing as “free.” I wrote about that earlier this week and took a beating for saying so, but I’ll say it again. No such thing as free!

DirecTV’s lease addendum steals a page directly from the wireless carrier’s playbook. With some cellular companies, any changes in your contract triggers an automatic renewal of your agreement, for “your convenience.” While I can certainly understand why a company would try to lock its customers in for as long as possible, it feels like indentured servitude to some customers.

You might have appealed DirecTV’s decision to hold you to a new two-year contract, if you could have proved you were snookered. Here’s a list of current executives. The email convention is [email protected] I also list key managers on my consumer advocacy site.

I contacted the company to get some details of your case. A representative confirmed that you had a valid contract and also called you to explain what happened.

As a gesture of goodwill, DirecTV agreed to reduce its early termination fee to $190, which you accepted.

Is DirecTVs contract fair?

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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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  • EdB

    Interesting. I was looking into signing my Mom up with Comcast earlier this year and they had a 2 year contract required.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    If she got new equipment, then my objections are substantially lessened given the well known cell phone model of contract extensions with new equipment. The article does not reference the mover deal and while that may be 100% accurate and a perfectly reasonable conclusio that is not obvious to those of us who do not have DirectTV.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Strange. I’ve had Comcast since the 90s. No Contract. I’ve had their crappy DVR and still no contract. Perhaps different areas, but I’ve had Cable since 1990 with various companies and have never signed a termed contract

  • Joe_D_Messina

    But Comcast’s equipment is easily removed and not a big eyesore sitting up on the roof of my house. The rental house next door to me had three dishes on the ground in addition to the one on the house from changing satellite providers over just a couple of years. Nobody ever wanted their equipment back and nobody would ever haul them away because they were technically still the other companies’ property.

  • Alan Gore

    Are you actually claiming that your cable company has the right to forbid you from moving until your contact is up? I can understand them requiring that you keep the contract up at the new location, so long as they can provide service, but what happened here is that they were unable to provide service AND still required the OP to keep paying them. Sorry, but that would be a blatant screw job.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Companies playing games with contract extensions has been going on forever. Most of the stories I read seem to happen on the phone, where the situation quickly becomes a “he said, she said.” Since some of these reps receive bonuses for customer retention, I have no problem believeing a CSR “forgot” to inform the customer of the extension.

    The solution to preventing a “he said she said” situation is to record phone conversations with companies. My family is taking a trip to San Juan over New Years where all air and hotel reservations are non-refundable, and with my grandfather in hospice care, we bought travel insurance with trip cancellation coverage. I purchased over the phone and recorded the ENTIRE conversation, asking the rep several times that since he is already in hospice care whether or not that would affect coverage. We’ll see how it goes, although hopefully I won’t need to file a claim.

  • omgstfualready

    Be careful depending on the state in which you live. Some states like PA require dual consent prior to recording (both parties must be aware and allow being recorded).

  • EdB

    You really like reading things in that are not there. First the claim about it wasn’t technically feasible and now that I implied the cable company has a right to forbid you from moving. I never said, or even implied such non-sense. All I said was it was the OPs choice to move, not DirecTV. The OP chose to move to a location where the first installer couldn’t set it up, i.e. service unavailable. Was it DirecTV’s fault she chose to move there? No. Did DirecTV forbid her for moving there? No. Should DirecTV be penalized for a choice they had no say in the matter? No. If you can’t get service at your chosen location, either pick another one where you can get service or pay the termination fee.

  • Joe Farrell

    A couple of things –

    A- NOTHING is free. Nothing. A mothers love comes at tremendous cost – just not to you. Free candy at Halloween- someone bought it. Not Free. Free health insurance from Obamacare- not free. Free coverage for kids to age 26? Not free either – people do not get jobs because someone needs to pay for that cost.

    1) she moved – upgraded – got free stuff – then because of trees and location conditions could not get a signal until they sent her a higher trained technician. THEY wanted to keep the service – they needed to tell her about the ‘cost’ of the higher end service. Did they? the calls are 100% recorded.

    2) She claims that DirecTV changed its programming. Right there THEY broke the contract and unless they restored all the Chinese language programming [assuming it was still available] then she should be able to get a free out from a contract she got no benefit out of. . . .

    Simple enough – all the calls are recored. Pull her call and see if they told her she was renewing to get the higher end technician . .. there is a script. And they generally are pretty clear about it. You just are not paying attention during the script. . .

  • EdB

    1) The first installer was unable to set up the system. However, the second installer did so she did get the new service.

    2) While the contract does allow them to change programming at any time, I agree that if DirecTV choose to drop the channel, they should be allowed out of the contract without the ETF. But if the channel became unavailable to DirecTV, then that is out of their control and the contract should remain in force if adjustments are made for the loss.

  • Joe Farrell

    It does not say an ‘additional’ 12 months – so if you have 12 months remaining – that should make it free . . . .that may not be how ‘they’ interpret it but thats how a court is going to interpret it.

  • EdB

    I wouldn’t bet on the courts interpreting that way.

  • Joe Farrell

    like I said Ed . . .assuming it is still available. . . these outfits change channels all the time – and when they do I ALWAYS Call up and schedule a disconnect of my service to get the best current deal . .. they refer you to the retention people to cut you a deal . . .

    it’s a little game I play with Time Warner – ‘you canceled XYZ channel, I watch that al the time – please come disconnect my service – you materially changed my contact.”

    The reps know what is going on. . .

  • Joe Farrell

    If a provision is capable of multiple interpretations which are equally as logical, then the provision shall be interpreted in a favor of a consumer in a contract of adhesion . .

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    But if the channel became unavailable to DirecTV, then that is out of their control and the contract should remain in force if adjustments are made for the loss.

    How is it not in their control? They signed a contract with station owner XYZ. They’re not a consumer with little or no bargaining power. The agreed to the terms and conditions of obtaining that station including the length of time that they would be guaranteed the station.

    And how is it fair to the customer that now they have to pay for a system, that through no fault of their own, may be worthless to them. For whatever reason, they are not getting what they were promised. That’s like me ordering a Thanksgiving Turkey from Whole Foods and getting a roast, because Whole Foods couldn’t get its turkey shipment in time. Not my issue. the consumer should not have to get in between the owner of Station XYZ and DirectTV.

    When I was in school, the most important station was the one that carried Star Trek. My friends would come to my apartment every week without fail. Its the only reason why I, a poor law student, paid for cable. If that station disappeared, I’d have cancelled the cable the next day.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Yes, cancel whenever I want.

  • EdB

    “And how is it fair to the customer that now they have to pay for a system, that through no fault of their own, may be worthless to them. For whatever reason, they are not getting what they were promised.”

    Did you miss the part where I said, “if adjustments are made for the loss”? If no adjustments are made, then the contract should be voided.

  • jim6555

    I’m tired of consumer rights being tossed under a bus for the sake of expediting a sale. In my business life, I would not sign a contract for several thousand dollars without being given a copy of the contract so that I am able to review it.

    An agreement from a major cell phone service provider covering two smart phone lines for 24 months can have a value of $4,000 or more. If it takes an extra day or two to complete the transaction and if a customer backs out after reading the terms, that all part of doing business. The cell phone service provider is probably netting about 50% from this deal. If it costs a tiny fraction of this amount to deal with paperwork, let them eat the minor expense. If people start to back out because of contract language that they don’t like, the provider will have to change the language to satisfy prospective customers. The greedy providers have had it good for too long. It is my hope that, because of the large number of customer complaints against cell companies that involve contract disputes, that the FCC will require customer signatures for contracts to be valid.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No, I didn’t miss that part. But the comment about adjustments is neither practical nor workable. How would you even begin to compute the reduction in price.

    Consider, As far as I know, cable and satellite systems require a minimum number of channels. If you only want 1 channel you still have to buy a basic package which comes with dozens or more channels.

    That’s why I described my Star Trek gatherings. I purchased cable specifically so that my friends and I could have a clean reliable signal for Star Trek. Without that channel, (KCOP), cable was useless to me. I think I paid $25,00 for 50 channels in basic cable. How would you figure out a reduction? Pro-rate? 1/50 is 2% or 50 cents.

    The OPs situation is not uncommon in Silicon Valley where I live. Satellite proliferation is high because we have a large number of foreign born residents. They get satellite specifically so they can watch shows from home in their native language as cable tends to carry far fewer international channels. This becomes particularly true if you are a recent arrival or have limited English proficiency.

    Forgetting the one sided contract that locks you in but lets the company provide what it wants. Lets just look at basic fairness. DirectTV no longer carries the channels which they enticed you to buy their system, but so sorry, you still remain their customer.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No, I didn’t miss it. But adjustments are neither practical nor workable. How would you even begin to determine a fair price as its highly individualized?

    That’s why I made my Star Trek explanation. I paid $25 a month for basic cable, about 50 channels. If that channel disappeared, I’d have had no use for cable. If I were locked in how would you calculate a reduction? Pro-rate? 1/50 = 2% or 50 cents per channel. Not hardly meaningful.

    The OPs situation is fairly common in Silicon Valley where I live. We have a very large immigrant community of engineers and their families. For example, we boast the largest East Indian community in North America.

    As a result, satellite proliferation is extremely high as satellite tends to carry far more foreign channels than cable. This permits those families the best opportunity to receive that slice of home. Remove/reduce those channels and satellite becomes useless, as they OP discovered.

    But at the end of the day, this is about basic fairness. DirectTV entices customers to join based on, among other things, the channel lineup. If the channel(s) that caused you to sign up for DirectTV are no longer available, it’s unfair that you have to remain a customer and continuing to pay for this useless service that is ultimately due to DirectTV’s business decisions.

  • EdB

    Your Star Trek example is really not valid in this situation. When you sign up for a package of channels, you are not guaranteed the programming wasn’t going to change. What if that channel decided not to carry Star Trek any more or the show was canceled? Should you be allowed to cancel your contract without penalty? And what if it was picked up by a channel that wasn’t in your package? Should they have to give you that package too to keep the contract valid?

    The adjustment I was referring to would be more along the line of replacing the dropped station with one with an equivalent lineup. Equivalent is going to be subjective but replacing something like the SyFy channel with Lifetime isn’t going to cut it. When you sign up, you get a package of channels, not shows.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I respectfully disagree

    As far as the lineup of channels goes, that’s the fundamental unfairness of this business model. We entice you with a lineup of channels but by the way, that lineup may change at our discretion and so sorry for you. You commit to staying with us for two years, but we make no reciprocal commitment back to you.

    Yes, you signed up for a package and DIrectTV changed the package by removing a channel. It’s not the same package. So sorry customer.

    The discussion of shows is a red herring. It was an example to illustrate how a single channel can be very important. If that channel decided not to carry Star Trek, that would be fine. I know that DirectTV has no control over the content of the channels. But the channel is still in my package. DirectTV didn’t promise any particular content. But the channel lineup is something that I assume is in their control. That’s the salient difference.

    And I think we have to inquire, why does a cable/satellite provider stop carrying a channel. I assume it’s because they decide it’s no longer cost effective. That is admittedly a guess, but if so, then it’s really unfair to entice you with a channel lineup that it can unilaterally change solely for its benefit.

    Even if I agreed with your remedy, as you stated, equivalent channels is a crap shoot at best.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    To simplify:

    I sign up for Channels 2-100

    DirectTV removed/replaces channels 10, 11, and 12. It’s not the same package that I signed up for.

    I should be allowed to leave.

    SImple

  • EdB

    “As far as the lineup of channels goes, that’s the fundamental unfairness of this business model. We entice you with a lineup of channels but by the way, that lineup may change at our discretion and so sorry for you. You commit to staying with us for two years, but we make no reciprocal commitment back to you.”

    I made two statements as follows…

    1 – “if DirecTV choose to drop the channel, they should be allowed out of the contract without the ETF.”

    2- “if the channel became unavailable to DirecTV, then that is out of their control and the contract should remain in force if adjustments are made for the loss.”

    Your statement is covered by the first part and if the choice is DirecTV, then, as I said, I agree. Let the customer out of the contract with no ETF.

    “The discussion of shows is a red herring. It was an example to illustrate how a single channel can be very important.”

    But you used the example of Star Trek being the reason you signed up for what you did, not because of the channel it was on. And I agree, the shows are not part of this as my post was trying to say.

    Bottom line. If the removal of the channel is DirecTV’s choice, void the contract. If, however, the channels are removed for a reason outside of DirecTV’s control, such as bankruptcy as an example, is it no longer available, I don’t feel that alone is reason to void the contract.

  • EdB

    You are missing the point where I was saying if the choice was DirecTV’s, then yes, it is not the same package. If it was not DirecTV’s choice, then this is a different situation.

    In your example, if the reason those channels were removed was because of DirecTV’s choice, let the customer leave.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    As far as point #2. That’s where we simply disagree. That’s between DirectTV and the station. Someone has to suffer if the station goes out of business. Either DirectTV or the customer. I say that since DirectTV is no longer providing the service, it’s the one that has to suffer, not the consumer.

    I, as the consumer, should not be middle. As I mentioned with my Whole Paycheck Thanksgiving example, if Whole Paycheck is unable to fulfill my Thanksgiving Turkey order, does it matter why? Does it matter that the turkey farm went out of business and didn’t provide Whole Paycheck with the turkeys. That’s not my concern. Whole Paycheck needs to give me back my money so I can go to another store and get my Turkey. They can’t say, it’s not our fault, here is a ham.

    Similarly, DirectTV should release the OP so she can get a dish company that carries her Chinese programming.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m not missing the point. I’m saying its not a meaningful distinction. The reason(s) why DirectTV is unable to continue providing the service is irrelevant. If I can’t provide the agreed upon service, that’s my problem, not the customer’s

  • Eileen

    God I hate Direct TV. They pulled this crap on me when I moved to a building where I could not get Direct TV because the building had some sort of deal with someone else. I had to “suspend” my account for 21 months. I will never, EVER, use them again.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Actually you can get some pretty powerful antennas. When I lived in the Caribbean and my parents bought their house, the cable company couldn’t get to our home for 3 months. Dad got an antenna that could pick up clear signals from other islands.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    As someone who deals with contracts all the time, I can tell you that electronic deliver and not requiring ink signatures for everything makes life much easier and cheaper for everyone. The real issue here is ensuring that the customers are adequately informed, which can be done through any number of easier means. For example 3rd party verification services for any verbal extension of contract terms would be cheaper and faster and serve the same purpose.

    I’m filing two federal matters this week. The documents will be signed electronically by the clients as “/s client name”. The court does not require ink signatures which would require printouts and scans, i.e. more work and less clear documents. However, as a verification, they require that I, as the attorney of record, keep an ink signature in my files in case the client ever disputes the signature.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Signatures no. If the federal courts can do without signatures, that ship has sailed. But, there are other less burdensome ways to achieve the same effect.

  • Joe Farrell

    Ed, u r wrong. Go read a cruise company contract. Under that contract they could charge you $2000 for 2 people for a 7 day cruise, and never leave port. There is zero obligation to do anything for you. Truly. You have no rights and they can refuse or not do anything except put you in a dinghy and row you to shore and they have satisfied their contract.

    There is something called the implied warranty of fitness for purpose. They need to deliver what they negotiated. You can call your cable or sat provider and renegotiate your deal everytime something changes. I do. The Time Warner CBS fiasco was a gold mine for me. I got free HD for life and free 6 months premium channels and a $300 gift card.

  • EdB

    You are comparing apples to oranges by comparing the cable contract to a cruise. A cruise is a one time, short term commitment with a single change. The cable contract is a long term with continuous payments.

    And what type of contract are you in with TWC? Last I checked, they didn’t have long term contracts. At least they didn’t earlier this year when I had them and dumped them because of the poor quality I was getting.

  • Joe Farrell

    they have 1 and 2 year agreements just like any other cable or satellite company. . .

  • cahdot

    evil contract sounds like the obamacare (tax law) promises u can keep your doctor/u can keep ur insurance plan…. if not u get to pay more

  • jacob

    I got direct tv a month ago and so many Fucking problems 1-then send out the guy to put the receivers and they are not hd and yes i asked for hd 2-they told me i have to pay $240 more to have the hd receivers than told me 200 than 190 than 260 than 50 than 150 omg 3-on the phone with direct tv all together for 4 hours with not a thing fixed 4-no contract was sent to my e-mail and yes when i asked for one they said “yes sir we sent it out” bullshit, at the end i called so i can end the contract and in 5 mins i had both hd receivers free and in two days. thanks direct tv for all the shit you gave me