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

8/3/2010

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Before signing up with a satellite provider, read the contract closely to avoid unexpected charges

August 3, 2010 – Arlington, VA – In the past three years, more than 53,000 customers have complained to the Better Business Bureau about satellite TV providers, with 39,000 of those complaints filed against DirecTV and 13,000 filed against Dish Network. Many complaints stem from fees and terms outlined in the customer agreement and BBB recommends that TV viewers planning to make the switch to satellite should read the fine print closely.

According to company reports, DirecTV has more than 18 million customers in the US and Dish Network has more than 14 million. The complex policies and fees that are sometimes unique to satellite service has led many customers to complain to BBB about the contractual obligations outlined—but often overlooked—in the fine print of their agreement.

“Many complaints to BBB about satellite providers stem from steep cancellation fees,” said Stephen A. Cox, President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “If customers aren’t satisfied with their service or they can’t afford the cost after the introductory period, it isn’t that easy to cancel because the early termination fees can run into the hundreds of dollars.”

Following are examples of common complaints BBB receives about satellite TV providers:

  • 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.

When signing up for satellite TV, BBB recommends that customers:

  • 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.

For more information or to schedule an interview with a BBB spokesperson, contact Alison Southwick at 703-247-9376.

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