Unplugging Your DirecTV Box Could Cost You $79.95

A DirecTV CSR claimed that reader Mark changed his installation by following troubleshooting instructions to unplug and reconnect his box, and now owed $79.95. Mark, who paid $6 per month for DirecTV’s protection plan, refused to pay the fee and asked to cancel to his service.

He writes:

Short history – Got DirecTV in July 2007, each month since, I’ve had to call customer service about them shutting off channels or receivers not working. I have the protection plan (about $6 a month) so other than time and hassle it hasn’t cost me anything.

Current event – We had the floors redone in the living room of our home. To accomplish this we had to move the TV and DirecTV box out of the way. We did. We didn’t plug it in a new location, simply moved it to another room while the work was being done on the floor. Skip forward, the floor work is done and I got to plug the TV and DirecTV box back into exactly the same spot as before. Turn it all on and the DirecTV box doesn’t find the satellite. I check all the connections, even the box where the satellite line connects into the “signal distribution” box to the rest of the TV’s in the home (btw – all the other TV’s are working fine).

Reluctantly, I call DirecTV support. After going through every single trouble shooting step with a polite technician Marisela, she concludes I need to have a technician come to my house. Then she says because I made a change to the installation, I would have to pay $79.95 for the service call. Huh?

Fortunately for me, I had just been reading how cell phone companies technicians and reps sometimes get it wrong, so I started asking for details and specifics. First I got her name and ID number. Next I confirmed that simply unplugging the box and plugging it back into the same place in the same configuration was considered a “change of installation”. She said yes. 3 times or so. I then asked if this was detailed in the protection plan, and she said “yes”. I then asked if the protection plan explicitly defined what “change of installation” was and she said “no”. Again, from reading about cell phone companies on Consumerist, I realized that without a legal definition of change of installation, was an arguable fact and that if all else failed some of the other hints from Consumerist such as contacting company executives or filing a complaint with the FCC were last ditch options if I needed them.

During the conversation, I asked the technician to please make a note on my account so that when I talked to other people about this issue, I would not have to explain it all again. She did.

The thought hit me though, that with all the problems I’ve been having with DirecTV service, this $79.95 service charge was the last straw. As much as I love the high def clear signals from DirecTV and all 5 of my receivers, I just didn’t want to have to keep calling DirecTV each month. I was sad because I really don’t like cable tv.

I asked Marisela about my options for canceling my account. She said she would have to transfer me to a different department. Thinking ahead and having experience with disconnects after being transfered, I asked for the name of the group I would be talking to and their phone number in case I get disconnected. Turns out there is no direct line to the retention department.

After a few moments, I was transfered to the polite retention technician Jamie. I explained my situation and desire to cancel due to the continuing string of problems and now this $79.95 fee because unplugging and replugging my box was considered a “change of installation”. Jamie immediately responded that simply unplugging and replugging the box would not qualify as a “change of installation”. She also explained it was within the terms of the protection plan that you could move your DirecTV out of the way for remodeling, esp for cosmetic reasons and that if you plug it back into the same spot without triggering the “change of installation” issue. She was very helpful and I’m really glad I decided to speak to someone about canceling (something I only do if I really intend to cancel). Without speaking with Jamie, I would have been stuck paying $79.95 just to get the DirecTV box to work.

Following on tips from the Consumerist, I asked that the fact there would be no fee for the service call be noted in my account. She did so and included her ID number so if a fee did show up, I could easily get it removed.

Total phone time about 40 minutes. 20 minutes trying to trouble shoot, 20 mins on hold and discussing the situation. Unfortunate that I had to go through the situation, but thanks to the Consumerist, it turned out better than it could have.

Thanks again for your great work at the Consumerist.

Great work, Mark. Threatening to cancel any service is an effective way to shake nuisance fees. The tactic is most effective when you speak with retention representatives, who have considerably more leeway than regular customer service representatives. You don’t need to cancel if they stand their ground, but they are usually willing to budge if they can keep you as a paying customer.

(Photo: grendelkhan)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Osi says:

    Wonderful Job there :) We cannot get DirecTV here where I’m at, so we don’t have to deal with the same hassles ;)

  2. Honus says:

    Cable providers are the worst. There’s really no reason it should ever have to come to that. Any company that gives a retention employee that much more power over a customer service rep is ripping you off and knows they’re ripping you off. They just can’t make it easy for you to get the service you deserve, so the CSRs play tripwire. It’s ridiculous.

  3. Ragman says:

    It seems from Mark’s letter that they determined the “change of installation” from the simple fact that his receiver was without ac power. I haven’t used DirectTV, but I have used DVRs with DishNetwork and Verizon Fios and never had an issue with moving receivers around. With DishNetwork, I upgraded both of my standard receivers to DVRs, and all it took was a phone call to change the smart card authorizations, with no fees whatsoever.

    Was there something in the protection plan agreement that stipulated not moving the receivers?

  4. edrebber says:

    I wonder how many other direct tv customers have been charged this bogus $79.99 change of installation fee and have paid it?

    Did the first CSR make this ruling on their own or is this a directive from direct tv management?

  5. siskamariesophie says:

    I’v always wondered why people have 5 tvs in their home…

  6. bravo369 says:

    unless i’m reading wrong, it seems as if you need a protection plan in order to unplug and replug in the box without getting charged. that seems stupid. what if you don’t have the protection plan and you have a power outage or blow a fuse and don’t fix it for 24 hours?

  7. Buran says:

    @siskamariesophie: Why does it matter other than being there to explain that yes, this guy does like the service and is willing to connect all his TVs to it? My parents have that many TVs, including the little for-disasters portable, by the way, are you going to make fun of them too?

  8. balthisar says:

    @siskamariesophie: How big’s your house? The two of us have three genuine TV’s, and two computers that can act as TV’s, all connected to a single MythTV system. So… that’s 5 devices capable of playing TV, and 6 if I plug in a monitor and speakers to the MythTV box. What’s so odd about that? Living room, family room, bedroom #1-#2-and#3, basement, home office, kitchen, servant’s room, out in the garage workshop; they’re all potentially good spots for a TV (note: that’s not my setup, obviously).

  9. rlee says:

    @edrebber: Jeez, EDREBBER, I’m sure you’ve been told a million times, “don’t exaggerate”! The fee wasn’t $79.99, it was $79.95. I mean, really. :-,)

  10. BugMeNot2 says:

    Don’t feel too bad. Your “high def” wasn’t really high definition. HD Lite FTMFL!

  11. goller321 says:

    @siskamariesophie: More than one person… more than one room…

    I live alone and have a television in almost every room. While I cook dinner, I like to have some background noise on, I have one in my office for when I’m working, one in the living room, one in the family room. Plus, networks tend to put their best shows up against each other, so there are often times when three shows are airing at once, and nights when there is absolutely nothing on, I like being able to tape each show, and what it (without commercials) at my leisure,,,

    FYI, I was supposed to have a Directv HD-DVR installed today, but it was canceled one hour before the close of the install window. I called Directv to verify they were out of boxes and asked what my compensation would be and I received a $100 credit. Sweet, I’ll wait a week longer for $100 bucks! :)

  12. goller321 says:

    @BugMeNot2: That’s not accurate anymore. Directv has true hi-def and is sometimes better in quality than cable companies.

  13. kingKonqueror says:

    I have to say, Mark (the consumer in question) did a great job of handling the situation. He didn’t let the company trample all over him, but at the same time he was polite. He was thorough in documenting all of the information, and remembered all of the key points about consumer disputes. In short, he knew his stuff, and he wasn’t an obnoxious ass about it.
    I really think this writeup should go somewhere permanent as a sort of case study in perfect consumerism.

    Bravo Mark!

    PS – Bonus brownie points for the part about only calling the retentions people if you really want to cancel.

  14. jfischer says:

    Step One: Make Up Bogus Rules On The Fly
    Step Two: Have CSRs “Confirm” Bogus Rules When Asked
    Step Three: Make It Hard To Escalate An Issue
    Step Four: Only Admit Rule Is Bogus If Customer Threatens To Drop Highly Profitable Service

    Result: Everyone Threatens to “cancel” over everything, as there is no other way to get service except through threatening to take one’s business elsewhere.

    New Career: Customer Service Customer Advocate… for a small monthly fee, our phone bank dials THEIR phone bank, and our CSRs beat up on their CSRs to get you what you freakin’ paid for, while not using up your time or interrupting your dynamic and fulfilling lifestyle.

  15. Osi says:

    Hmm, all we have is cable here and they rip off people in a major way. Luckily, we canceled our cable many months ago, and get every single one of our episodes and tv series either from the net or buy the DVDs.

  16. jarchie219 says:

    OhBoy! Some people are really TV addicts.

    We who listen to podcasts all day long are just normal people.

  17. blitzcat says:

    Umm seems like a crap company and canceling was the right choice. But I have zero TV’s, zero cable tv bills and zero urge to pay to watch ads.

  18. carterbeauford says:

    what happens when your power goes out?!

  19. nrwfos says:

    I have Dish Network. On regular occasions we have to unplug, wait, and then replug in the receiver to “reset” it. If I thought I was getting charged $80 each time, I’d go ballistic. It’s their crummy receiver and satellite that are causing the problems. No way would I pay that. Thanks to OP for posting his experience.

  20. Lordstrom says:

    I would’ve cancelled just for the threat of $80. That is unacceptable and they need to pay the price for it.

    Of course I say that as someone who broke the chains of cable television and rely solely on internets and DVDs.

  21. howie_in_az says:

    @siskamariesophie: Er, we have six: family room, rec/game room, master bedroom, exercise room, office, and guest bedroom.

  22. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @goller321: What information do you have that the rest of the world doesn’t that HDLite on directv has gone away? All the information I find on the net indicates that dtv might have more “HD” channels but still is last in quality.

  23. Infe says:

    I’ve learned in the past to never, ever, ever, EVER volunteer anything. Don’t say you moved a receiver. Don’t say you unplugged anything. Always, always say it just happened on its own, and you didn’t do anything. Sadly, this probably costs the company more in the long run, but you cannot trust companies. “Was the item dropped?” No. “Did you change anything recently?” No. Even, sadly, “have you unplugged the box?” which is a ridiculous question.

    Play the dummy who has done nothing. And if these companies ever want us to trust them, they’re going to have to earn it back, on a company by company basis. I’ve especially learned that since I know a thing or two about computers, I’ll try everything to fix something first, but if something is broken, it’s broken. And no good comes (to you) of telling a company that you did this and that to fix it.

    Sometimes, when a tech tells me to do something (reboot, run disk check, or unplug, or some such nonsense I’ve done two hours ago, or I wouldn’t be calling) I don’t even do it. I just tell them whatever they want to hear.

    Yep! It’s rebooted already! The problem is still there!!@!$# Just frickin fix it!#@$!

    That is all.


  24. HykCraft says:

    I’ve unplugged my DTV box several times.. even had numerous power outages due to storms and I was never charged this amount for that.

    Something shady is going on here. I say that his guy is full of some BULLSHIT.

  25. cccdude says:

    Count yourself fortunate that they didn’t show you the door. Anyone who calls up every month with problems has GOT to be flagged in their system as a “problem” customer.

  26. siskamariesophie says:

    @Buran: I wasn’t poking fun of Mark (or your parents for that matter) for having so many tvs, I was just trying to conceptualize that American oddity of having a tv in every room.
    More to the point though, you’d think that with all the business Mark is giving DirectTv with his 5 tvs, they wouldn’t be total dicks about the issues he’s having.

  27. Am I reading this right here? If you don’t buy the 6 dollar a month “protection plan” they charge you to speak to customer service?

  28. CPC24 says:

    @HykCraft: I agree. I’ve had DirecTV for years and never heard of this charge. They’ve given me numerous free installs, and even let me switch out my old box for free.

  29. Wdeal says:

    Echoing other comments here… My parents have DTV and no protection plan. I am confident the receivers have been “off” as a result of power outage and I am sure they are not charged for calling customer service.

    I have never heard this “you cannot move your DTV installation” rule (although they have never had occasion to move).

    I know that the receivers are listed in their online account by their location in the house — so I cannot say that DTV doesnt have that info. I thought that was just to easily distinguish between the receivers when they had to be “refreshed.”

    Might someone clarify on these DTV “rules”???

  30. mac-phisto says:

    i unplug DTV receivers & move them all the time (just did it today, in fact). never once have i experienced problems or been told i was going to be charged a fee. i’ve even called to reactivate boxes (you have to do that on occasion if you have a box that hasn’t been used for 3 months or so). no fee there either.

    perhaps it’s b/c he has 5 receivers?!? a quad lnb only accomodates 4 receivers, so either he’s running 2 sets off one receiver (“signal distribution” = diplexer?), or he has a more complex lnb. i don’t think they ship octos or quattros to your average customer though.

    perhaps the csr thought he unplugged the “signal distribution” device, which is a device that is not part of their standard installation, therefore triggering an additional fee.

    i dunno. something’s not right here.

  31. kbarrett says:

    @JFISCHER AT 01:31 PM
    New Career: Customer Service Customer Advocate… for a small monthly fee, our phone bank dials THEIR phone bank, and our CSRs beat up on their CSRs to get you what you freakin’ paid for, while not using up your time or interrupting your dynamic and fulfilling lifestyle.

    If your CSCA provider doesn’t perform, should you hire another CSCA to ride herd on them?

  32. goller321 says:

    @doctor_cos: HD Lite was a problem with Directv using Mpeg 2. Since switching to Mpeg 4, the quality has greatly increased. Check some boards with actual users on it. The only people that still spout about the “lite” are people that don’t even have Directv…

  33. Noyo says:

    I Love the CSCA concept.

    I’m having to “cancel” in order to get Verizon to keep my tethered phone to laptop up to speed. I’m no where near their 5 gig monthly usage cutoff point and they keep bringing me down to 1/2 dialup speed.

    Right now I’m in the middle of an interesting discovery. I forgot to disconnect my cell from the laptop when I hit a speed reduction, and I dialed out after rebooting. My dialup is now running at the normal tethered speed for the first time ever. I’ve inadvertantly discovered a workaround for their throttling of my tether speed. Somehow the dialup and tether are working together to give me the higher speed. Weird!

  34. Tank says:

    @siskamariesophie: one in the living room, one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, one in the game room, one in my office and one on the screen porch. i guess that’s 6

  35. nrwfos says:

    Is it ever possible for companies like Direct TV to state their “official” policies somewhere (like here) to be read and tried to be understood? I really hate hidden policies because I know they exist.

    As for the “I dunno” response to the “what did you do to try to get it to work” question by the CSR: That’s the way to do it. Don’t you know how you respond when your kid does this? Kids know better than to volunteer information. It’s always “I dunno”. It works. Ignorance can be bliss in these situations…at least feigned ignorance can be.

  36. Knoxjs says:

    79.95 – which is the going order for anyone without the protection plan to have a service call…bottom line is if you do not add the protection plan (which decreases the fee from 79.95 to 19.95 at the time of the tech issue) the issue will cost you 79.95.

    That being said – unplugging your IRD (affectionately referred to as ‘the box’) does not by any means void your protection plan coverage of the issue. Which is more than likely the reason you got the service call comped.

    I work both in the Tech. department and the Retention Department (also known as CRG and Tech Tier 2)

    Most importantly you should always be as pleasant as you can to our CRG folks – the latitude given to our retention department is immensely helpful in difficult situations.


    But I’m not an employee so how would I know what I’m talking about?

    The trouble I could get in for letting our secrets out…*sigh

  37. Ausoleil says:

    People who say that DirecTV’s HD signal is not very good have no idea what they are talking about.

    We have both DBS providers due to an overlap in service. We plugged HDMI from Dish and from DirecTV into the back of our Panasonic Veria 50″ plasma and set both boxes to various mutual HD feeds and switched back and forth. The signals might as well have been identical from a quality standpoint.

    What would be really nice is if the networks would move up to 1080p, especially for sports.

  38. Brad2723 says:

    And that’s a problem with ETF’s. If you’re under an ETF ant threaten to cancel, the CSR’s don’t care. They probably get a commission for each account they cancel with an ETF.

    Even so, a lot of companies are starting to forego the retentions dept. all together. It’s pretty bad when companies don’t even care if you never do business with them again.

  39. EvilConservative says:

    Agree with MAC-PHISTO.

    I move receivers around regularly and never a problem. FYI, the “Location” shown online is settable by YOU online. It’s just a comment that help’s you remember which receiver is which. Also, the boxes regularly get “reauthorized” and if you are unplugged off either power or the dish long enough (way longer than any normal power outage) you have to do that over again — that may be this guy’s problem, but I’d have thought they’d have hit that troubleshooting. I’ve been through it once when I started up a new box that had been sitting unused for months after our move-in to a new house — waiting for the new TV (that I was too cheap to buy until the price dropped.) No charge and the CSR pointed out I could have done it on-line myself (made the system reauthorize me.)

    In fact, when I obtained an old box from my son who wasn’t using it, swapping it in for my (older) oldest box that had a crummy remote was accomplished with the CSR – no problem, no charge, no maintenance plan, no muss, no fuss and all after midnight. I can’t complain.

  40. PirateWithParrot says:

    I hate DirecTV, They just screw everyone over. Cable is much better and has better prices.

  41. DirecTV uses subcontractors and are overwhelmed with business due to their lack of abundant digital HD channels. Blame the subcontractors as I’m sure cable loves them. Stick with cable, it’s so much better than DirecTV. Cable rocks.

  42. travel6652 says:

    my main complaint with direct tv is the poor equipment. remotes fail at a high rate and they charge to replace their faulty equipment.

    when I get time I will switch back to comcast which may have issues as well but at least the equipment works.

    I was also over charged for installation of my direct tv by a substantial amount and could not get direct tv to do anything.

    my advice is anything but direct tv.

  43. dtvslave says:

    Look people, I work for directv in the sales department. When You call to order service I’m on of the thousands that answers your call. I can tell you that while Directv has it flaws. Most of these complaints are your own fault. All our calls are recorded and we are REQUIRED to tell you all the “catches” extra fees ect. It’s just most people tune out when we start reading the long list of legal requirements. Those requirements are also sent in writting in your 1st bill, READ THEM!
    Another problem people have is not following the prompts correctly when you call in or calling the wrong number. YOU WILL WIND UP IN THE WRONG DEPARTMENT, DON’T JUST KEEP HITTING BUTTONS!!! Here’s a tip 1-800 directv is NOT the customer service number, you will get the sales department.And they will not be happy with you cause you not paying attention might have just screwed their comission for that week. Call whats on your bill 800-531-5000.
    Directv has been rated #1 for 7YEARS over every other cable and Dish net provider We have more HD channels and our cost very low when you think of all the channels you get. So if you don’t like our service, you will HATE anyone else’s. Unless you like calling India for your service needs.
    Also NEVER EVER EVER order through your phone company or Best Buy/ Circut City!!!! They give wrong info ALL the time cause selling Directv is not really their job, they will forget to tell you about fees and such. Also, before you call to ask questions about our service, READ ALL THE FINE PRINT on whatever add you have. It will save us both a lot of trouble. Yes you get 4 rooms INSTALLED free with STANDARD install. There are monthly carges for extra recievers and standerd in stall does NOT include fishing wire through your walls. Now I will admit some of our reps are misinformed on some things and some outright lie to make a sale. But if you do your homework BEFORE you call us you will get excellent results with AMERICA’S #1 SATALITE PROVIDER.

    and Dish net provider

  44. 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 deceptive
    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.

  45. rhanzelka says:

    Amen brother. Cable rocks! Directv suck!!!!!

  46. Anonymous says:

    I used to work for their competitor who laid a whole sales division off when the merger failed. I’ve had a few issues with broken promises, etc. but I don’t mess around with c/s, I start with what Clark Howard suggests: Contacting Investor relations, getting the president and/or board members’ contact information and using the BBB and state Attorney General’s complaint system. In this case, complaining to the FTC and FCC would be in order. Also contact a nationally syndicated consumer show so the complaint gets heard nationwide. They make tons of money off people who are to afraid or complacent to act and they expect you to just take it. So hey’ll generally stand at attention after doing something more than the average person.

  47. Jeff Anderson says:

    I work for directv, these are not fees, if you dont plug in a phone line to order pay per view ( you can order free movies with no phone line) but when you plug a line in, BOOM!! your hit with the whole bill.