Kevin Hunt: Wiring In Tree, Bill Shock, Then $480 Cancellation Fee From DirecTV


DirecTV (May 8, 2014)

A contract with a satellite or cable provider, like a diamond, is forever — and almost as expensive.

It can feel that way.

Consumers must treat any agreement for television service, Internet and landline phone as if it were a deal with a wireless provider. You know how that works: The commitment usually starts at one or two years. There's no way out unless you pay an early-termination fee.

Martha Schukoske of Cromwell didn't know the true meaning of telling DirecTV over the phone in early April that, yes, she wanted to save a few dollars a month by trying the satellite service.

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"I spoke with six or seven people who either gave me false information or neglected to make we aware of extra charges," she says. "There were certain items that I did not want included. Some 'associates' told me, 'no problem, just tell the installer.' . . . Others said they would write a note on the installers' instructions. Neither happened. Some said as soon as I was connected, they would remove what I did not want. Others said I had to wait a month."

Schukoske, 67, says an advertisement she saw online offered a DirecTV bundle of television, phone and Internet service for $77.94 a month. She did not realize, however, that the fine-print details indicated Internet and phone service would be provided by AT&T and cost $87.94 more a month.

Her regret became despair as soon as the installer left.

"The installer drilled holes in the foundation and, after he left, I found he had strung a wire through the tree branches up to the roof," she says. "I know. I should have inspected before I signed off."

Immediately, Schukoske wanted to cancel the service. She checked the contract she just signed. It said she agreed to pay the first bill plus $20 per month of the two-year contract, even if she canceled.

"I am a senior citizen on a fixed income. I certainly do feel taken advantage of. Please, I cannot afford this," she said when she contacted The Bottom Line.

Schukoske did, in fact, terminate the DirecTV service. She says DirecTV told her she would receive an invoice for $480, representing a $20 penalty for each of the 24 unfulfilled months of her contract. She agreed but asked the company to remove the wiring.

"They refuse to remove the wiring," she says, "that is atrocious-looking."

Schukoske knew she made a mistake signing up with DirecTV. Actually, she made several. She should not have signed the contract without know what was in it. Specifically, and most essentially, never sign an agreement without reading it. And never agree over the phone without requesting a copy of all conditions in writing.

If you have questions, ask, and don't sign anything until they are answered. They might include:

>> How long does the introductory rate last?

>> How much does the service cost thereafter?

>> What is the required contract length and penalties for early termination?

>> Is there a 24-period after installation to cancel without penalty?

>> Can I cancel over the phone or is it required in writing, either during or after the grace period?

>> Are there extra charges for a DVR or Internet service?

>> Is the introductory rate only available after a rebate?

Based on the contract Schukoske signed, DirecTV was not obligated to consider her complaint. But it did.

"Upon reviewing the notes on Ms. Schukoske's account," says Meghan McLarty, a DirecTV spokeswoman, "there was apparently a miscommunication over the cost of our bundled Telco services. Since we were not clear with her that extra charges were involved, we have waived the early cancellation fee as well as the first month's bill and apologized to Ms. Schukoske for any inconvenience this may have caused her."

Schukoske knew she had dodged a expensive bill.

"All charges have been erased," she says. "They sent a prepaid box for their electronic equipment, which I mailed today. I don't think I will make a fuss about the wiring, which is dead."

But DirecTV, when told about the wiring, sent a technician to remove it.

"And that," says Schukoske, "is TBL."

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