A DirecTV Cancellation Conundrum

Reader Dito has a DirecTV riddle.

Let’s say you break your DirecTV box. You try to use an old from your basement but it won’t work with the new card. The DirecTV rep sends you out a new one for free and it works. Happy story, right?

So then when you move and try to cancel service to try out Comcast, you’re told you’ll be assessed a $125 “early termination fee,” even though you’ve been a customer for six years.

Turns out that when you got the new box, it automatically enrolled you in a new 12-month service plan. “It goes without saying that no one told me “if we send you a new box, we own your soul for a full year,” writes Dito.

Does Dito have a valid claim? How we he go about embarking on a dispute process? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. — BEN POPKEN

(Photo: Getty Images)


Edit Your Comment

  1. ptkdude says:

    Make them produce a contract with your signature and the date you received the new box. Back in my old days in collections for a wireless carrier, we used to tell customers “use of the service constitutes acceptance of the service agreement”, but if someone pushed the issue there really wasn’t anything we could do.

  2. Cary says:

    Doesn’t really suprise me.

    I decided to try DirectTv about a year ago. When I called I asked how long it would take before installation and she told me 1 to 2 days. Once she had my credit card it went to 4-6 days. I told her that was unacceptable and to cancel the order. She told me that she would cancel the installation but had to transfer me to someone else to cancel the order for the HD DVR.

    I cancelled that order and got a confirmation… they charged my credit card $400 anyway. I called when I got the statement and they said they would look into it. It took a MasterCard chargeback to get my $400 back. They then called me for payment and I suggested they provide proof of delivery… never heard from them again.

    Stayed with Dish… only other choice was Adelphia (at the time) and I’m not in southern California because I like snow.

  3. superlayne says:

    Don’t you need to sign a contract, or something?

  4. Skylar says:

    My question: Why would anyone who reads Consumerist find Comcast to be an improvement from anything?

  5. joshta says:

    I recently canceled my account with DirecTV after being with them for about 5 or 6 years and after I discovered the world of FTA (Free To Air) satellite. The cancellation process was pretty painless because we owned our equipment. They try to reel you back in with free months, discounts, and free channels and they still call from time to time to try to get you back but all is well.

    I never had a problem with the service.

  6. gorckat says:

    DirectTV is the suck. They came out to my place, determined there was no way they get a signal becuase of all the trees in the neighborhood and went on their merry way ~1 year ago.

    Last week I got a $29 late fee for something or other…they waived it of course, but how do you bill a late fee without an account?

  7. kalikidtx says:

    file a complaint w the BBB (www.bbb.org), Sprint used to try a similar game with me years ago, and each time I filed a BBB compliant and it was escalated and always in my favor because there was no written or verbal contarct they could produce that actually shows where I agree to such terms……good luck tho, it sux….

  8. codegrl says:

    I really like DirecTV, then again I haven’t had any problems. All of my tech issues that I’ve had were handled quickly by a rep and they were pretty small.
    I would see if I could return the ‘free’ box back to them. That’s probably what the $125 is all about. Other than that…you could just stay with DirecTV; I don’t think I’ve ever heard a nice word spoken about Comcast.

  9. LAGirl says:

    listen to the wise consumerists: DON’T switch to Comcast. DirecTV isn’t great, but it’s definitely the lesser of two evils.

  10. tobi680 says:

    I think DirecTv did you a favor. Comcast sucks, and while I’ve never gotten much help with DirecTv’s tech support Their customer service is great, I’ve only had to call about a few minor problems in the past 4 years but they’ve always offered to credit my account and even given me free subscription channels for the inconvenience. Comcast on the other hand is riddled with service outages and piss poor customer service. If DirecTv started offering affordable high speed internet I’d switch back in a heartbeat.

  11. r81984 says:

    Comcast has it good points and bad.

    Their cable internet is awesome.

    They basically canceled the scifi channel, which does make them bastards.

    They switched the scifi channel to digital only so the only way to get the scifi channel is pay extra for the whole digital package. They are terrible for fudging over their customers this way.

  12. ScramDiggyBooBoo says:

    Time Warner. I know i have seen the horror stories on here and i have had my share of problems, but they are always quick and courteous to me. And they have no ETF.

  13. darman says:

    I think that most people who have DirecTV know this policy, especially if you have been a customer for six years. Plus, is everyone entitled to something for free these days? This is not unlike any, for instance, cell phone carrier who “gives” you a free phone.

  14. homerjay says:

    I’ve been a customer for 5 years and I didn’t know about thisw policy.

  15. guymandude says:

    Without question Dito has a valid claim. ALL contracts must be offered with full disclosure. Direct TV is guilty of constructive fraud.

  16. united316 says:

    I had DIRECTV till I switched to Charter, (bad move on my part) I called to pay my bill one day because internet was down and they told me that I qualified for a free dvr upgrade. Sounded good to me, but they left out the part of the 2 year agreement with them for taking the dvr. After 2 or 3 calls to customer service and there supervisors, they sent me out a box to return the dvr to them in and did not charge me an early termination fee.

    I would call them and just be nice that is what I did I was not aware of the contract and they worked with me. In July I am thinking of going back to them.

    They are also better than charter.

  17. dethl says:

    Burden of proof is on DirecTV to prove that they actually told you that activating the new receiver would incur a new 12-month contract. The little walkthrough the CSRs use to activate a replacement receiver require them to inform you about the new 12-month contract.

  18. hop says:

    i’ve had direct tv for about 9 years and have had no problems…..we recently moved and the tech guy showed up the day after we were in our new lopcation, set up 3 lines in the house, explained the set up….the real nice part was the original owners of our new house had comcast service and the direct guy used the comcast house hookups…he did install a dish…..

  19. DarthDigweed says:

    I was a 8 year Direct TV user. I moved 2 months ago and had to go with Comcast (they REALLY Suck!) well let me go back a bit… in like November of last year my Directv box stopped working, Directv sent me a new one for free, and a new Card. Then when I had to cancel in March they did it at no cost. I love directv and miss the hell out of it every day! so much so that I put my name on a waiting list at my building for a south facing apartment so I can get it again.

    To the person who likes Comcast internet: try using it for file transfers and see how fast they throtel(sp?)you. I had qwest before and never had the crap internet comcast has.

  20. asujosh1 says:

    DirecTV tried this same tactic with me, only I had just received the DVR that I purchased for $350 and noticed a $6 line item on my bill for the DVR. I mean, if I bought it, what am I paying them for? Anyway, I ended up calling and getting rid of the DVR and just getting the basic receiver. The agent I spoke with said I couldnt cancel because I had signed a 2 year contract. I said ‘WTF? I never signed a contract, much less a 2 year one!’. ‘oh yes, everyone who has a DVR is automatically signed up for a 2 yr contract’

    Talk about a load of crap, you purchase a DVR at full price, not using any of their discounts or anything, and they still want to hook you for 2 years without giving you anything in return. They ended up canceling it without the ETF, but only because I demanded my $350 back and they didnt want to give me the credit. Silly people, can’t they do math? They would have been WAY better off to just give me the credit…

  21. Okiedog says:

    Hey Dito –

    I had directv for 2 days and then cancelled because I thought I had a 3 day trial period. Ooops – turns out that once you activate the receiver (which you kindof have to do in order to see the picture) you are “locked” into a contract. Took me 4 months of emails and phone calls to resolve.

    The person I eventually found at Directv who was extremely helpful is listed below. Send her a note with your issue and see if she can assist. I sent an email in the morning and she called me that afternoon to say my issue was resolved.

    Heywot Bitew HZBitew@directv.com

    I switched back to comcast as they have more HD channels and for watching sports, nothing beats their digital package (directv only has a few hd channels – at least back in Feb). Of course, about every 4 months my bill gets re-adjusted, so I call and kvetch to someone and my bill goes back down. I’m usually paying about $45 – 50 for digital cable plus HBO – I think that is normally priced around $80. If you have time – make that call and negotiate.

  22. MeOhMy says:

    @asujosh1: When I bought my DVR box at Circuit City, a little contract printed out on the receipt. At the time I don’t believe it was a 2-year contract, but it was made quite clear that I was agreeing to a contract extension and a monthly charge.

    If you had done your homework, I can’t imagine how you would not have known there is an extra cost.

  23. revmatty says:

    I’ve been a customer for years, and I knew this sort of thing was common, but I didn’t think it was a valid enforceable contract. I’ve never fussed about it because when I’ve upgraded boxes I know I plan on staying in my house more than a year so it won’t be an issue for me.

    When we were considering selling the house, I delayed getting a DirecTiVO (don’t get me started on that) because I didn’t want to be locked in a contract if we sold the house and went to an apartment.

  24. zncjmom says:

    I had a DirecTV experience just yesterday. We started off with their service along with their “high speed internet” (ha) about 3 years ago. We canceled the internet part right after our one year agreement, the service was never reliable, slow, and customer support was horrid. We however kept the tv service.

    We recently had our roof re-done and the dish came down, we figured this was a good time to shop around. Not to mention our bill had gone up by $5 for no reason that anyone could explain to me, just more taxes… The first person I called at DirecTV convinced me to only “suspend” our service and we would not be charged, I agreed.

    We ended up getting a much better deal with DishTV and it was less expensive, I called to cancel my DirecTV and got transfered to the “account retention” department to process my cancellation. What a joke, I knew exactly what they were going to try. The lady took 20 plus minutes to try and sell me on a different package, just suspending my account, and so on explaining if I canceled I would face higher fees next time I came back. I held my ground and finally got the service canceled.

    You can bet I’ll raise heck if there is so much as a tiny fee on my bill from those guys. All in all DirecTV has been a pain in the side and I’m glad to be done with them. I wish you luck with your argument, I agree make them prove you agreed to extend your contract, just like the dang cell phone companies…

  25. Beerad says:

    DirectTV is BAD, BAD, BAD. I moved into a building not wired for cable a month ago and got DirectTV. The coop board freaked out about where they put the dish on the roof after it was setup (yes, I had approval, but that’s another story).

    While the techs were still there I signed up for services, including the extended service-type protection plan for one reason: I specifically asked the CSR signing me up, in painstaking detail, if the cost of moving the dish because the coop insisted would be covered. The CSR checked and said “yes, in that situation you wouldn’t have to pay a thing.”

    Sure enough, the coop insists, so I call DirectTV to have the dish moved. I get to spend 1 hour 40 minutes on the phone with DirectTV, 20 minutes being bounced around because nobody seems to know where customer service is, 40 minutes with a CSR who gave me three different answers about whether my situtation qualified (yes under one contract, no under the same contract, and no under a different contract), and 40 minutes with a manager who can’t comment about the fact that the CSR who originally signed me up apparently lied to me and that nope, I’ll have to pay to move the dish. His veneer of condescension didn’t help matters. HIS manager isn’t available, but someone higher up can get back to me “within 72 hours”. Despite explaining that I work during the day and please call me at my work number, sure enough three days later there’s a message on my home machine saying “Hi, it’s DirectTV Manager X – sorry, you don’t seem to be home. I’ll try again later.” Surprise surprise, I never get to talk to him.

    Finally the day of the dish move comes the following Saturday. The tech shows up and wants to argue about why the dish needs to be moved. I thought that because I’m the customer and I’m telling you to move it was a good enough reason. Then he says “Oh, we’ll put up a new one but we don’t actually remove the old mounting installation.” I tell him I don’t believe him and he admits “Well, actually I just didn’t bring the right tools.” He agrees to come back Monday but begs “If DirectTV calls, just tell them I did it, ok?” Monday we call him and he says he can’t come, so we threaten to tell DirectTV and he promises to come Tuesday. Which he does. That dish moving experience was another mess, but I’ve rambled on way too long.

    Short story – DirectTV is terrible, I can’t wait to never use them again, and I tell all of my friends to avoid them like the plague. The quality is okay, but I bet they have better customer service in Hell.

  26. ExGC says:

    As scummy as the practice is, It might well be a valid, enforceable contract. In most cases, a contract does not have to be signed, or even in writing, to be enforceable. There only has to be evidence of an offer, acceptance and consideration (some value – even if it is worth a penny or less – exchanged). A signature on a piece of paper showing the terms is the best evidence, but if you can show that the person was given notice of the terms, and then used the service, that is usually sufficient.

  27. ratmonkey says:

    I had the exact same situation happen to me about 6 months ago. After befriending the CSR, she let me know that I can suspend my service for up to 9 months at a time. And once the 9 months is up, you call, reactivate your service and then call and suspend it the next day for another 9 months. You don’t pay a thing while the account is suspended and it counts towards your commitment period. Still, it’s terrible customer service to commit your customer to an extended contract without their knowledge.

  28. guymandude says:

    @ExGC: This is completely incorrect. 1st of all any performance or consideration that is in excess of 500$ MUST be in writing. A verbal contract is generally regarded as being worth the paper it’s written on. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the contract must be offered with full disclosure. If it isn’t… the offer isn’t considered valid. The Uniform Commercial Code clearly states that the inferior party gets the benefit of the doubt. So lots of companies SAY things that aren’t legally enforcable. Prime examples are signs posted in businesses that say things like “You break it .. you bought it” or “No 50$ or 100$ bills accepted”. Neither of them have any legal standing and don’t mean a thing.

  29. dvddesign says:

    If you’re only subscribing to SD content on DirecTV (and until they launch their full HD lineup later this year, you don’t want to bother with their HD stuff), there’s an easy solution for this.

    Buy a used receiver off of ebay. DirecTV will send you a programming card with no problems. The access cards aren’t considered a contract-able item to them, as it’s the box itself. Those cards are infinitely disposable to them (since hackers keep stealing their signal), so having one doesn’t imply you are under a contract. The box however does if you purchase one new.

    I’ve been a DTV subscriber for 9 years now, and I’ve loved the service, but I can’t agree with the new Hughes boxes they have now. I bought a Samsung receiver back in 2003 because of the component SD and DD5.1. There is nothing that Hughes makes that has this capability in it, so I will not be getting a new box until I move someplace where I can install DTV-HD.

    Don’t go with Comcast. Considering the ease of installation for DirecTV, if you live in apts like I have over the last decade, once you’ve seen the installer do it once, you’ll never pay to have it done again. Their “Mover’s Connection” service has a 12 month contract tied into it.

    I’ve gone in and out of contracts with them all the time over the last 9 years, but it’s never really phased me since I rarely have to call customer service.

    A big plus to remember on the ebay equipment is the fact that it’s not contracted. That and that DTV’s DVR software sucks ass, so ebay’s the only place to find TIVO branded DTV receivers.

  30. pestie says:

    Oh, I wish I could post the letter I got here, but it’s at home. I had a roommate for a while – a friend – and to make her happy in her new place, I bought a second DirecTivo to add to my account. I bought it at Circuit City as an open-box product and got quite a deal on it ($70). I activated it and all was well, or so I thought. Then I got this letter from DirecTV a couple weeks later – a “friendly reminder” that I had, by activating my new DirecTivo, somehow agreed to extending my contract for 2 more years (I think it was 2 years). They wanted to “remind” me that I would be charged a big-ass early-termination fee if I decided to cancel before then. Fuckers.

  31. jules1651 says:

    This happened to me. Customer Service all but admitted that tech support does not always communicate the fact that sending you new equipment extends your contract. Ask for retention services and ask for a box to return all your old equipment. That will get you out of your penalty, it worked for me. The problem w/ DirecTV vs. Comcast is this whole “owning your own equipment” thing — it’s like a cell carrier, any upgrade extends the contract. That and no real OnDemand.

  32. g4lt says:

    pity that the directv ETFs don’t qualify for the “over $500” part

  33. guymandude says:

    @g4lt: There still has to be a verbal acceptance and there still has to be evidence of it. A simple “but they said!” isnt’ going to hold up in court. And as I indicated DTV isnt’ the one who is going to get the benefit of the doubt in court. DTV must show that full disclosure was made. The consumer doesn’t have to show it wasn’t.

  34. Dito says:

    Many thanks to Ben and the Consumerist team for editing my lengthy diatribe down to a readable, entertaining article.

    An update on the complaint isn’t very promising. I’ve had several go-rounds with customer service (via email) and gotten nowhere. All they keep offering is the same link back to their site: http://directv.com/agreements, which doesn’t really tell me anything meaningful.

    It’s been two weeks since this all transpired, and I’ve yet to receive the promised equipment-return box. I offered to send the box back at my own expense, but the CSR told me that wouldn’t be necessary.

    As for Comcast, I went into this with my eyes open. I’ve read all the Consumerist horror stories and knew what to expect. They gave me a good “switcher” deal (for 12 months) and the installer was on time, professional, and didn’t fall asleep. So far, so good.

    I don’t consider my options exhausted just yet. I refuse to knuckle under and just pay up to make the problem go away. I’d like to reserve the BBB complaint as a final option, so keep the suggestions coming.


  35. veronykah says:

    Joshta–So I’ve been researching Free to air satellite, it sounds pertty interesting. Can you receive it with a DirecTv dish or do you have to buy a S-1 dish? How about the receivers/boxes?
    Any recommendations to learn more about it?

  36. skeleem_skalarm says:

    Dish pulled this shit on me, although I didn’t want out of the contract at the time, without telling me. It seems like every time you talk to anyone who has you under contract, the contract starts all over again.

  37. frank1975 says:

    I had a similar problem. After 6 months of non-functioning equipment and Directv offering nothing other than “reboot your dvr and try again” I decided to cancel due to defective equipment. Of course DTV would have none of that and tried to charge me a $175 early termination fee.

    I was smart when i signed up and used a virtual cc# so they started to try and bill me for the $175. On top of that, they would not send me prepaid boxes to return the equipment, claiming “we tried twice and it was undeliverable” (yeah right, i live in a single family home).

    So after 4 more months of fighting I started to get calls from a collection agency. That was the last straw. I started googling around and found the CEO’s email address. I emailed and within 5 hours had a call from “The President’s Office”. The CSR was apologetic and dropped the $175 charge, got the collection agency off of my back and i received boxes on my doorstep within 4 days.

    My question is this… why did it take 10 months and numerous phone calls to accomplish this? If i would have given them my real credit card number or bank account number, i would have probably been SOL.

  38. rwares says:

    I have a very similar problem. My DVR broke 1 1/2 years into the contract. My husband called tech support to see if there was anything he could do to fix the problem. They said the box was toast, but since he was a valued directv customer, they would send him a new DVR for free as long as he returned our broken DVR (which we owned). He gave Directv our DVR in exchange for their DVR. Nothing was mentioned about a 2 year contract… 2 months later I called Directv about a billing error and asked them when my contract was up, (I was thinking about getting new equipment at the end of my contract). That is when I learned that my contract now expires in June of 2009. I consider this fraud on many different levels.
    First and foremost, I am the account owner – NOT MY HUSBAND. The account is in my name only. How can MY contract be extended without Directv ever speaking to me nor me signing a contract?? The state I live in is not a community property state, therefore no one except for me can alter any financial agreements.

    Second, no verbal notice was given to my husband about any contract extension. The refurbushed DVR they sent us (not even a new DVR) was offered by the Directv representaive to him for “free.” Free is free, period. The word “Free” is defined as having no restrictions.

    Third, I would have to say that Directv’s actions could be considered “slamming”. The same practice that the phone companies got in trouble for in the 90’s. The FCC has specific laws that prevent slamming. Seeming that Directv is a communications company, shouldn’t they be required to adhear to these same laws?

    I am in the process of composing a letter to Directv’s Billing Dispute department and giving them 10 days to resolve this issue. I plan on Cc: the office of the chairmain and any one else’s address at Directv I can find (any suggestions?). Certified, signature required -of course.

    I will post back with my results.

  39. rhanzelka says:

    We (wife and myself) entered a two year contract (that we understood at
    the time to be a one year contract)with Direct TV in late 2007. Big mistake!
    I have had problems with the service from the beginning. It started with
    shoddy installation that prohibited me from locking my home and protecting
    my family and valuables from break in. We are plagued with downtime due to
    faulty equipment that won’t even last through the contract period. When we
    request service on their defective equipment, they tell us they are going to
    charge us to fix their equipment. I had cablevision for 30 years prior to
    getting screwed by Direct TV. This is the worst service coupled with the
    worst product I have ever been stuck with in my entire life. The worst thing
    that ever happened with cablevision was being down for 2-3 hours once every
    year or two because of a down line. When I call Direct TV for service, they
    tell me it will be a week to ten days before they can get to me. So I am
    without television for that long but am still charged for it. I am also
    expected to take four to eight hours out of my work day every time Direct TV
    comes to my home. The last time I was told service would be performed
    between eight o’clock in the morning and noon. The technician did not even
    arrive onsite until 12:10 p.m. Service was not performed until after the
    agreed upon time that it would be completed. That was just two week ago. Now
    the service is broken again and we are told it will be another week before
    they can come to fix it. How long will the FCC go on allowing Direct TV to
    cheat and take advantage of customers? I would love to have the opportunity
    to do a commercial for cable television. After being subjected to customer
    service as poor as Direct TV, I know what the worst is. And to top it all
    off, when my wife negotiated this contract with Direct TV she was told that
    it was a one year agreement. Two weeks ago when we had trouble the last
    time, we were informed that it was a two year and not a one year contract
    that we originally agreed to. I suppose we can throw a little decptive trade
    in for good measure… huh? This is the worst experience I have ever had
    with any vendor in my 50 years and I will make sure I tell everybody that
    has ears to hear