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)