McLarty says customers are told when they purchase the service than the cancellation fee is $20 for every month remaining on their contract. The cancellation fee is also mentioned in the equipment lease agreement. The 24-hour cancellation window exists only as a courtesy, says McLarty.
Ambrosini's experience echoed the type DirecTV pledged to eliminate when it agreed in 2010 to a $13.25 million nationwide settlement after allegations of deceptive and unfair sales practices.
Richard Blumenthal, then Connecticut's attorney general, released a statement at the time that included this indictment: "This was classic bait and switch, hooking consumers with phony discounts and then hitting them with hidden charges. Consumers thought they were getting a deal only to get clipped. Customers who caught on and canceled were sometimes clobbered with substantial cancellation fees."
In the three years prior to the settlement, the attorney general's office received about 200 complaints about DirecTV. Since the settlement, it has received more than 100 complaints about DirecTV's service and fees.
The state Department of Consumer Protection, says spokeswoman Claudette Carveth, has received only a "handful" of comlaints about DirecTV since the settlement. It says consumers considering DirecTV should not agree to any promotion without knowing:
>> The promotion's length.
>> The cost of the service after the promotion.
>> The required contract length.
>> Additional charges for HD or DVR equipment.
>> Whether a promotional price is conditional on a rebate.
>> How long they have to cancel without penalty – 24 hours?
>> The cancellation fees.
>> How to cancel (ask if it's required in writing), both during and after the grace period.
"If the offer is being made by phone," says Carveth, "consumers should request all of these termms in writing before signing up. Consumers should be absolutely clear on these conditions before agreeing to them."
Ambrosini, relieved that he's no longer tied to DirecTV, has settled on a third option for his program viewing.
"It's interesting to realize that I am not really all that motivated to reconnect to any TV service after this ordeal," he says. "I have come to learn that most of what I want on TV is available from the Internet and mostly free. Most of what I went through is industry-wide, anyway."