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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.