The Top 5 Consumer Complaints About Satellite TV Providers

After seeing our story from yesterday about a DirecTV subscriber misled into believing he was signing an 18-month contract, the folks at the Better Business Bureau sent us their recent research on the complaints they’ve received about DirecTV, Dish Network and other satellite providers.

The BBB has received over 53,000 complaints about satellite providers, with the lion’s share (39,000) directed at DirecTV. Dish is on the hook for 13,000 complaints.

The Bureau broke down the most common types of complaints they receive:
Early Termination Fees – Complainants report paying cancellation fees amounting to more than $600. Commonly the customer felt that the company didn’t provide the services promised and they shouldn’t have to pay to cancel service they weren’t happy with or didn’t receive. In some cases the customer claims they were not aware of the policy or that a sales rep misrepresented the terms.

Introductory Offers – Many promotions will offer a lower price or premium channels for an introductory period, after which the customer will be charged the full price. Some complainants state their monthly bill increased substantially more than they anticipated. Others state they were promised gift cards for signing up that never materialized or rebates that couldn’t be redeemed immediately.

Billing issues – Some complainants state that they were charged for services they didn’t order–such as pay per view movies–or were charged for services which they thought would be free. Complainants also cite issues with returning the receivers to the company and still being charged. In some cases the unexpected charges were the result of expiring introductory rates or offers.

Service issues – Complainants have also contacted BBB over reception quality issues, channel offerings or difficulties in getting equipment repaired.

Upgrades Resulting in Contract Extension – Some complainants were upset to learn that when they upgraded their service or equipment, it resulted in a contract extension and they were later charged fees for early cancellation.

BBB then offers these tips for how to protect yourself from these pitfalls:
Get it all in writing – Don’t just take a salesman, installer or customer service representative’s word for it. You might also be speaking with a third-party retailer and the verbal promises may not show up in the final customer agreement with the satellite provider.

Read the terms and conditions carefully – Pay close attention to the terms on introductory offers, equipment costs and the cancellation policy.

Check every bill closely – The sooner you spot inaccuracies in billing, the better. Even if you have your account set up to automatically charge your credit card or debit your checking account, always review your monthly bill closely for any new or unusual charges.

Mark your calendar – Put important dates down on your calendar such as when you need to cancel introductory promotions for premium channels and the end of your contract.

File a complaint with BBB – Consult the terms that you agreed to and if you’re unable to reach an agreement with your satellite provider, file a complaint with your BBB. Both Dish Network and DirecTV consistently respond to complaints and BBB has been able to help consumers receive refunds in many cases.

Complaints to BBB about Satellite TV Reveal Common Customer Grievances over Terms of the Agreement [BBB]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Alvis says:

    Plenty of FTA satellite if you don’t want to bother with shitty companies. You can get lots of channels in CONUS with just a 1-meter dish; no need for a giant C-band one (most of the time).

    • SwoonOMatic says:

      To translate

      FTA = Free To Air
      CONUS = Contentinental United States.

      I had to google, so now you don’t have to.

    • Nighthawke says:

      One guy got bored and took a 40″ Primestar, bolted a C-band horn on it and had a ball. He reports solid, but low signals. And it takes a looong time to scan channels.

      Food for thought: think about how it would go if someone took an 1 meter Hughesnet dish and attached a C-band horn on it? That thing is bigger than a 40″ Primestar.

      • TheGreySpectre says:

        I have a friend with a few spare 3 meter dishes, I’ve kind of thought about having him give me one once I have a back yard big enough. They would be kind of fun to mess around with.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    This is pretty much my manifesto for why I refuse to attempt satellite service.

  3. Hotscot says:

    But don’t expect the BBB to do anything. They have no power to act.

  4. turkishmonky says:

    I refuse to purchase any product from a company that uses introductory offers – probably why I’m watching tv off of a media center with netflix and hulu desktop…

  5. Sian says:

    My main complaint is I lose signal during every afternoon thunderstorm, and it’s always during a show I like.

    • Traveshamockery says:

      You may want to have someone come re-align your dish. I rarely lose signal…it takes something truly severe to knock out my service because my signal levels are all 95+% in good conditions.

      It’s also possible the dish is crooked on its mount, or the post/pole/siding it’s attached to are letting it drift off proper alignment.

      • Alvis says:

        That has a lot to do with your latitude, as well. Northerners will see greater signal loss during inclement weather.

      • Sian says:

        Florida and signal is in the mid-high 90’s on clear days.

        I should check and see that the mount is good and tight though.

    • Alvis says:

      Easy solution – put up a larger dish.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Yes. One so large, it reaches beyond the thunderstorm entirely.


        • Alvis says:

          Large dish = more signal is reflected to the feedhorn. Signal can still be weakened by the storm and have enough get through if the dish is big enough.

    • vastrightwing says:

      So do you work for Comcast, TW, Cox or other? This is the shill response the cable companies always parrot back at satellite owners. Cable, on the hand has no problems like over billing, bad customer service, lying, not showing up when promised, faulty equipment, not crediting returns, loosing programming, moving channels to “digital” tiers, etc.

    • BeckiB@DISH says:

      If your signal is going out constanstly, or with every storm, then your dish needs realigned. Of course, it is going to go out with a bad storm, but it should not be going out with every little rain drop.

      Becki Barned
      DISH Network Customer Service

  6. Traveshamockery says:

    I like DirecTV because:

    1) They negotiate price and give me free stuff (I’ve had free movie channels for about 18 of the last 24 months, and never paid for them)
    2) DirecTV’s iPhone scheduler app (set recordings from anywhere via phone)
    3) Far better boxes than the cable company (better interface and more storage on the DVR)

    Contracts are certainly a downside, but if you know you’re going to have TV anyway, it’s a nice leverage point with which to negotiate freebies and price concessions.

    • Boo LaRue says:

      These are also my top three reasons for liking DirecTV. Despite the fact that my recent installation and subsequent customer service issues were horrid.

    • vastrightwing says:

      Except that with DirectTv, they own the equipment & make you rent it from them long past the point the equipment has been bought & paid for. However, Costco tells me I can buy the equipment from them, so who knows.

      • Traveshamockery says:

        True. They will still charge you a monthly fee for each box even if you “buy” it from Costco.

      • JMILLER says:

        This was actually instituted due to customer demand. You buy the box upfront, and if it craps out, they will replace it. In the old days when I first started with DTV, I bought a Sony HD receiver ($800). After 15 months it took a dump. It was out of Sony warranty, and since it was a third party DTV had nothing to do with it. Shortly after, DTV decided to have you pay for the level of receiver you want. They will replace the receiver with a like model or the same model if they die. This came in handy for me twice since the models that compared were upgrades for me. If you cancel the service you return the receiver. My oldest receiver is still not owned by DTV, but it is not HD. Hell I need to feed the gerbils to keep that thing running

    • mmrosek says:

      Except all of those things involve roping you into a contract extension that is buried in the legalese, plus their equipment is rubbish (it shouldn’t take 8 seconds for the receiver to register that I hit the “down” button), and they can’t offer internet. I hope they (and Time Warner) are both blown back to hell from where they came.

  7. Jeff-er-ee says:

    I’ve have very little co complain about with Dish, which is more than I can say for either DirecTV (had it) or Comcast (had that too back when it was Viacom). The only issue I’ve had was when the HDD in my DVR died, and they had the entire DVR unit replaced at no cost to me within 3 days. Service has been good, and the bill, although it’s creeped up a few dollars this year, has always been reasonable.

    • tbax929 says:

      I would love to go with Dish, but they don’t have my favorite channel – MLB Network. If they did, I’d seriously be considering them for my new house.

  8. Riroon13 says:

    I only have one real complaint with my DishNet service: I live in the boonies; my FOX, ABC, and CBS locals come from the next largest town to the east — about 15-20 miles away. I receive those as my local channels. The ‘local’ NBC channel is actually about 30 miles to the west. Although an antenna and the local cable company recognize this station as my local NBC feed, Dish does not.

    Ergo, I haven’t seen Leno in years.

    …wait, did I say that was a complaint?

    Other than that, DishNet has been PERFECT to us for over 10 years. Love Em.

    • JMILLER says:

      That is not the fault of any service provider. It falls under must carry rules. It may not make sense geographically, but I have friends who live far closer to Toledo, but get Detroit stations on both Dish and Directv. This can be an issue in small towns where a podunk station manager may not want to show “racy” content that the networks produce. It also comes into play with blackouts for sporting events. The Toledo stations carry the Browns for football and Detroit carries the Lions. Its a lose lose situation

    • TouchMyMonkey says:

      Well, our nearest CBS station is 45 miles away, in Syracuse, New York. DirecTV didn’t want to let me have locals because they said that station was technically in our local market, in Utica. Actually, the FCC has that CBS affiliate in both markets, hence the problem. Dish Network, on the other hand, puts us in the Syracuse market based on our zip code, not our actual address, so they could give us the Syracuse locals. The good thing is, I now only need a modest-sized antenna to pick up the Utica local stations, what few there are, and get our local news.

      Of course, people living in the postal areas just to the east of us are still screwed. The only way any of those people are getting CBS is with Time/Warner Cable, which is worse than useless because they’re the only game in town.

  9. rpm773 says:

    I tried to sign up with DirecTV once. They called me about a week before installation to tell me I had $1600 balance with them. So I had to go fill out a police report for identity theft, and get a copy of it notarized and sent to DirecTV’s fraud department. While all this was going down, they cancelled my order

    But that incident explained why, 6 months earlier, 15 empty receiver boxes showed up at my doorstep, sent from DirecTV. When I called them about that, they didn’t know what I was talking about, nor could they find my account that someone had opened in my name.

    I’ve decided I’m [marginally] better with Comcast.

  10. tbax929 says:

    I was almost positive I was going to sign up for DirecTV when I move into my new house in December (I haven’t been able to have satellite in my apartment), but the two-year commitment scares me a little. Does the amount of the ETF lower with time? Is there an out for things like unemployment?

    I know Comcast isn’t the best, but I’ve been able to use the threat of cancellation in order to receive lots of discounts on my cable. The new house is in Cox territory, but I wouldn’t be under contract with them, so I assume I’d still have this bargaining power. Do those of you with satellite have the ability to call in to a retention department and get a discounted rate, or do they not offer anything since you’re under contract?

    I understand that Qwest has some sort of partnership with DirecTV, but I don’t know anyone who has it. If I were to get DirecTV through Qwest, would I still have a two-year commitment? Can any of you shed any light on my questions?

    • LastError says:

      As far as I know, there is no escaping the ETF but there are ways around the contract. If you are handy.

      Hit up flea markets, ham fests, computer shows, craigslist, and yard sales and find yourself some DirecTV or Dish gear for cheap. Everybody’s got old receivers and dishes usually for a few dollars. I’ve even seen some old DirecTivos for less than 50 bucks. You DO take a risk that the hardware is under contract to somebody else or reported stolen, or was a leased item that actually belongs to DTV, so go for the older boxes. They still work. They tend to predate the leasing thing. They’re also usually very cheap.

      EBay and Amazon are another option for boxes but beware of the sellers who are just commercial vendors with all the same contract crap. You want the individuals who just have old receivers for sale. Make sure a remote is included.

      Anyway, once you have your gear, you do your own install. That includes mounting the dish, running the wires (get the RG6QS cable, connectors, and tools at your favorite home center), hooking it all up and so on. It’s not hard to do at all. I did my own with no prior experience and it still works fine 10 years later.

      Once you are up and running, then you call DirecTV and tell them you bought a used receiver and you need a new access card. It will not work without a card and that’s the only part you need to get new. The card is usually about $20 (sometimes they don’t even charge for it) and you’ll need to pay for a service deposit usually.

      The card will come Fedex and you are up and running.

      Since you own all the equipment at that point, you should be able to avoid the contract. I mean, they aren’t giving you anything in exchange for the commitment so hopefully they won’t ask for the next 24 months of your life.

      Just be very careful. They are known to sneak in contract re-ups at any chance they have.

      Good luck.

  11. balthisar says:

    I just switched to Dish from DirecTV. I’d been with DirecTV since it was USSB, say, 1998 or so. I have nothing at all to say bad about DirecTV, except that they need more channel in their ethnic packages to be HD. That’s the sole reason I switched to Dish. And with Dish, so far, so good, and I know already what my early termination fee is as well as the pro-rate amounts. Unless Dish just plain doesn’t work for some reason, I expect to be just as satisfied with them.

  12. DuckAround says:

    I like satellite service because DirecTv will offer me television programming in exchange for American currency, due monthly. This is a concept that Comcast is unable to grasp for 4 our of 10 households in my county in Maryland. Would I prefer cable TV and internet? Probably. But DirecTv will take my money and give me TV programs in return. Imagine that, Comcast.

  13. Rumblepuff says:

    I had to complain to the BBB when DirecTV charged me 2 times for install w/ DVR ($400) and never actually installed it.

  14. watch me boogie says:

    We had great service with DirecTV for several years – mostly. Initially, the novice-seeming tech placed the dish poorly and we lost reception any time a single raindrop fell. The same guy came back out and moved it to a different poor location.

    When DirecTV called to ask us how our service visit went, I mentioned that the tech seemed very very green. A different guy came out, placed the dish properly, and we never had another problem except during one particularly bad blizzard. The original tech got re-trained, everybody happy. (We switched back to cable so we could consolidate services, otherwise we’d still be with them.)

    Honestly, I think they’re all shady f*ckers – cable, satellite, mobile companies. They put out a lure and count on people just paying what they charge – especially if competitors are few-to-none in the area.

  15. Amy Alkon says:

    I have Dish and something happened where the tech person told me I’d have to erase all 100 hours of programming I had saved on my DVR in order for it to ever work again. This is basically like ordering numerous Netflix, and having to pay for them, despite never receiving them.

    Do you think Dish gave me one penny of credit? If so, you would be wrong.

  16. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Never really had a problem with our satellite TV…

    …but satellite internet IS A LIE! The cake-lie has nothing on the satellite internet lie!

    About the same as dial-up for surfing speed. Faster for downloads of large single files though. But expect to lose your connection several times a day and pay through the ass for it.

    Everytime I see the effing DirecWay/HughesNet ads on TV I want to reach through the toobs and strangle that daffy bitch.

    • LastError says:

      Nah, just think of her as eyecandy, because that’s all she is. SHE doesn’t even have to use Hughesnet: she can’t. She’s Australian, trying very hard to hide the accent too.

      At least she is nicer to look at than Charlie Ergen.

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      Thank you for the comment on the satellite internet. I’ve often wondered how good reception is and if it is worth the money. But DSL speed? Not worth the money.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        We finally got DSL, which liberated us from DirecWay/HughesNet.

        It’s infinitely better.

        Satellite is much more akin to dial-up speeds than DSL speeds.

  17. Mr. zip says:

    Until our local phone company (if you have an independent local telco, be glad) ran fiber out for tv service, we had Dish. Never had any problem at all. We bought this dish and receiver in a box kit and set it up our selves, and just called to have it activated. Any time we’d have trouble, they’d get it going again. The receivers were also the best we’ve ever had compared to the moto boxes our phone company gives us.

  18. hc130radio says:

    I’ve always had cable from the time i was a child up until 2 yrs ago when I bought a house in a rural area in NC. I’ve been very happy w/DirecTV. Even after the installer told me i couldn’t connect my series 2 Tivo, I’ve never had any issues. Once I hit 2 years with DTV, they gave me 3 months of their extended channel package all with asking, which suprised me – and with no obligation. My parents have DishNetwork and they haven’t been very happy, but have stayed with them for 10 years. I recently was able to convert them over so we could get the rebates (that will pay for my ESPN gameplan package!)

  19. Steelrider says:

    Contact the senior level DISH executives.
    Call corporate headquarters at this number, 303, 723- 1000, hit 9, and then key in these direct line extensions to the execs at the prompt:
    Tom Cullen, Exec. VP Programming – 285536
    Erik Carlson, Exec. VP Operations – 2275766
    Stanton Dodge, Exec. VP – 36343
    Steven Wood, Exec VP – 9663783
    Roger Lynch, Exec VP – 59624
    Robert Olson, Exec VP – 65766
    Finally, check your DISH bill. There may be charges you don’t know about. Is it possible DISH promotes auto pay so you won’t look at your bill? No, couldn’t be.

  20. mrgee1959 says:

    I have made the most unfortunate decision in contracting with Direct TV. First, I had all sorts of problems with getting it to work. The Customer Service/Tech Support is always rude and surly. They said something like “go ahead, cancel, We will just take $460 from your bank account…”
    I have been with them for a year now. I wish that I knew of a way to get out of the contract and buy a plain old antenna. The new gimmick with Direct TV is that right at the year mark, they start messing your reception up. When you call to complain, The response that I get is “Well, to send a tech out will cost you $49.95 for the visit or you can subscribe on a monthy basis for $5.95 per month. I am currently on SSI and cannot afford any more than I am paying. What happens when the system is completely down and I cannot afford to pay for a house call?

    This is blatant extortion. Does anyone have any ideas about breaking this contract???

    We need to boycott cable companies. The programming sucks most of the time anyway.

    Let me know: email me at