Is DirecTV guilty of “false advertising”?

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Question: We recently ordered DirectTV service based on information received from the company’s sales team that turned out to be wrong. We think DirecTV is guilty of false advertising.

A representative told us our reception would be good, if not better, than Comcast Cable. This is not true. We had Comcast before we got DirectTV, so we know this for sure. We have a high-end television for which we paid $5,000. Our picture quality was greatly reduced with DirectTV.

I was also told we would have all the same HD channels I had with cable. Not true. We couldn’t get certain channels, including WCCO.

We canceled our service immediately. We were not informed during any of our conversations that we didn’t have a right to cancel our service if we were dissatisfied. Yet now we are being charged a $460 Early Cancellation Fee. Under the circumstances, I don’t believe the fee is fair. Can you help? — Caren Rickert, Osseo, Minn.

Answer: You switched to DirecTV after talking with a company representative. In that conversation, all of the terms and conditions of your purchase weren’t disclosed, and they couldn’t have been disclosed.

DirecTV sent you a confirmation letter after you placed your order. The letter explained the Early Cancellation Fee, which is a penalty for not completing a 24 month agreement. DirecTV agreed to credit you $20 for your first month, but billed you for the rest. That’s a steep price to pay.

To avoid an unpleasant surprise like this, you might have done a little research before placing your order. DirecTV’s terms are clearly disclosed on its website. The $480 fee is revealed in its equipment lease addendum. Neither of these documents are light reading or even easy to find on the DirecTV site. It wouldn’t surprise me if your agreement letter glossed over this little fee, too.

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Minnesota state law has a three-day cooling off period for home solicitation sales, but even if this had qualified as a home solicitation, you were past the three-day mark. A check with DirecTV reveals no record of any technical support call to the company, so the first time it says it heard from you was when you phoned it to cancel your service.

The only leg you had to stand on was the fact that DirecTV promised you a service it couldn’t deliver, and that’s gotta count for something.

I contacted the company on your behalf and relayed your disappointment with its service. A representative circled back with you and agreed to credit half the cost of the Early Cancellation Fee. Even though DirecTV believes its cancellation fee is valid, it agreed to “close the book” on your concerns and meet you halfway. You accepted the refund.

Is DirecTV guilty of "false advertising"?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • SarahJ89

    $5,000 for a tv? Are you out of your everlovin’ minds???

  • I wouldn’t know. I don’t own a TV. ;-)

  • CarolinaLannes

    Didn’t they get a list of available channels? There’s no way a representative could have known all the channels they had on cable. About the reception, well, they didn’t try and call about the problem?

    It seems to me more of a regret of changing (maybe price-related?). Directv shouldn’t have refunded.

    About the poll, my answer would be: probably. But not on this case.

  • Nikki

    lol, that’s what I was thinking too… I’m like, “Oh hell no. For that, it better be damn close to live action!”

  • Karen

    Nope. That’s why you read the fine print.

  • cjr001

    We need a LOT more information on this one.

    Did this person check what channels they should have available before they signed up? I know I did. I’m looking at the DirecTV website right now, having plugged in a zip code for the city they live in, and it shows WCCO available for all packages (not knowing how old this story is).

    And yeah, the whole $5,000 TV makes me think they don’t have much of a clue. Spending that much doesn’t make it do a bunch of things a lot of TVs that are 1/10th the price can’t.

    Edit: Also, early cancellation fees are pretty standard now anytime anybody gives you hardware for free (phone, DVR, etc). It’s in the fine print, which they had time to read, and a lot of it is on DirecTV’s website.

  • Cherity

    No false advertising here. I have had Comcast, Cox and now DirecTV. I can recall being told of the terms and conditions before I signed on with each provider. I settled with DirecTV because they offered the most channels and the price was $40 cheaper than cable. Now, once the OP received her confirmation letter, why didn’t she call DirecTV then to question the early termination fee? And I highly doubt her reception was worse than Comcast. A quick call to tech support could have probably fixed the issue. I’ve had problems with reception in the past and it was rectified with the help of tech support. And if the problem couldn’t be fixed by phone, they always sent out a technician to fix the problem. I can’t attest to pricing, but between Comcast and DirecTV, DirecTV is definitely the better provider AND they offer more channels than Comcast ever has!

  • disqus_A6K3VBf8Zn

    How many people looking for cable tv are going to check firms’ websites? This is
    ludicrous. Why isn’t this information included on the Yellow Page and White Page ads, which are more accessible? I appreciate this story and have been warned..

  • randybkc

    $420 Early Cancellation Fee? That’s more then any cell phone companys.

  • BD

    Any time I have ever considered (but never bought) DirecTv service I always checked the channel lineups to see what was available. With stuff like this you always do the research and never trust the person on the phone.

  • backprop

    “As good, if not better” is subjective, so on that point, the OP fails. Maybe their $5000 TV has settings that they haven’t explored. Also, the OP only cited on channel that was not available, and it seems to be a local station. Is that it, really? It would be nice of DirecTV to split the difference if it makes this bad apple go away, but the customer really deserves most of the blame here.

  • Howard

    They shouldn’t have gotten a refund if there’s no evidence of a call and no evidence they spoke to anyone about getting better service. Regardless, a $5000 TV ought to pick up channels without a subscription to any service, as well as make you a hot dinner when you come home!!!

  • Lyngengr

    I recently moved and switched from Comcast to DirecTV. When I ordered DirecTV, the sales agent made it very clear I was signing up for a 24 month contract and would have an early termination fee. As for the picture quality, it is better than Comcast, and DirecTV has more HD channels, and a better interface. If the OP had an older TV that would not accept an HDMI input and was using a coax connection with cable, the picture quality would be worse.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Even better is they throw out the $5,000 figure when it has absolutely nothing to do with the story. The only relevance in comparing picture quality between the two services is that they were using the same TV; what it cost is completely irrelevant.

    And who exactly sinks $5K into a TV and then changes services without even checking to see what channels they’d be losing or adding in the switchover? Maybe they were deceived, but they basically were accomplices in their own deception.

  • Bill___A

    You need to do research before you sign a contract. I don’t see where the $5000 tv weighs in here. You’re going to have to play Blu ray DVD to maximize the potential of that, or use OTA.
    Lucky that they got a compromise really.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Because the phone book has absolutely nothing to do with your television? Sure, the phone book people would be happy to sell the space so the TV providers could print out the listings (too bad they change so frequently it’d be out-of-date within the year) but they certainly aren’t going to just print them in there for free.

  • Roger Miller

    Probably a 3D TV.

  • Roger Miller

    Agreed. I did the same, and DirecTV picture is superior. Also, they were very clear on disclosing the early termination fee.

  • Texasmom

    I have Directv service. When I was making the decision about which provider to choose for my cable/satellite service I did exactly what you did. I went to the website, plugged in my zip code and looked at the channels offered in my area. I based my decision on the information provided on the website plus the assurances given to me by the Directv sales rep. Once the contract was signed and the service activated, I realized that the website did not provide an accurate listing of the channels provided. When I called to complain about the deception, customer service bent over backwards to make me happy. They offered service credits and found another way for me to receive the missing channels free of charge. Based on the high level of customer service, I decided to stay with Directv and have been pretty happy so far. I think the customers referenced in the article were right to be unhappy about what they consider to be false advertising, but wrong to simply call and cancel their service without giving Directv a change to make it right.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    We live in a place where cable isn’t available and have been with DirecTV for years with no qualms other than their nearly criminal pricing on their movie channels.

    However, I do recall when we made the switch and the representative made sure we understood we would be charged an early termination fee should we leave before the two years was ended. Also, while I was on the phone with her representative, I asked them to lead me to their channel lineup on the internet, which they were happy to do.

    And, I’m sorry, but this has to be said – they paid $5,000 for a television and they’re worried about a $460 cancellation fee? I like my television and picture quality as much as the next guy but there’s no way on God’s Green Earth I’d pay THAT much for a television. I balk at $1,000.

    I think this has more to do with buyer’s remorse than anything else. Time to move on…

  • Pat

    I am not a fan of DirecTV but in this case they were within their rights to charge an early termination fee. First, a $5000 TV tells me it is an older TV. It has been a number of years since even the best flat screens went for that much. I had missing channels a couple of times with Dish Network. They reset the channels I was authorized to view in one circumstance and gave me the package for free when the channel I was looking for was switched to a new package in another circumstance. For the bad picture, it could have been an incorrect setting in the satellite receiver for the TV they have or the dish alignment was not quite right. But DirecTV should have had the opportunity to make right, which they did not have.

  • ssheldo

    We have had Directv for several years. Their customer service has always gone above and beyond whenever there has been a question or problem. When ANYTHING happens re; picture quality, reception, or even how to best understand and/or use the service, we have always gotten a friendly, helpful response.

  • Zod

    The problem with directTV is their marketing. They use viral affiliate methods where they pay people for bringing on customers, so it’s not in the best interest of those affiliates who bring on customers to bring up any negatives because then they won’t get their customer bonus. So yeah, they’ll tell you anything to get you to buy…they don’t care. DirectTV doesn’t control their affiliates and they don’t care how their affiliates do business as long as they keep on bringing on new customers.

  • Zod

    for $5k, they better have more “D”s than just three!

  • Pat

    The $5000 TV is probably an older flat screen. Six years ago I bought a 42 in. plasma for $1900. Last week I bought a 51 in. plasma for $580 that is better and has higher resolution. You can get a 60 in. plasma for $700 that is probably better than that $5000 TV. So saying they have a $5000 TV is meaningless when it comes to telling how good it is.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    @Christopher Elliott: I’m really thinking that your last “That’s Ridiculous!” article for next Tuesday should be “Customers who can’t be bothered to read the materials available to them and the self-inflicted problems they create.”

    On a less strident note: Seriously, you’re thinking about what to do with the Tuesday feature, now that the Frommers contract is going away. You occasionally write articles on how to do things, such as rent cars, or avoid trouble, such as the article you reference in your newsletter e-mailed this morning. You often give a sort of flowchart when answering a question, saying that this step and this step need to be taken before or after a transaction. So – why not formalize it? Your book, in the later chapters, has good ideas on preventing or resolving problems. You could even plug your book (hey, it’s your site and we read for free – why not self-promote?) by saying, “I cover this in Chapter xx of my book “Scammed”.

    Then your regular readers who have great expertise in particular areas can offer their suggestions on what to do. I’ve gotten lots of great hints from others in these articles: video or photo a rental car and then e-mail them to yourself; luggage ideas for packing lightly (thanks, Joe!); confirming reservations before leaving for a trip and so forth.

  • Think $5K is rather steep for a TV? Check out the new 4K TVs. 86″. One company wants $25K for theirs, the other wants $24.5K. At least the higher priced one comes with a fair amount of pre-loaded 4K material on the DVR that comes with it, especially since the current broadcast/satellite/cable standards don’t support 4K.

  • Dan

    People… the price of the TV doesn’t indicate it’s age. I can find a 103″ TV on Amazon for $40,000. More realistically, Bose has a model out that is a combined TV and sound bar, and it runs somewhere between $5k-$6k. I’ve seen a demo of it; it’s pretty nice.

  • Dan

    I spend lots of money on various things, and I resent the idea that if I’m able or willing to pay $5000 for something, that I should “willingly” pay a $460 nuisance fee for something else. I have $5k to spend on what I want because I’m not wasting $460 on other things, or just handing it over to some large corporation.

  • These are great suggestions. I’ve already written the last column — and I think you’ll like it. But I will see if I can incorporate this into the next Tuesday column and, ahem, another yet unannounced project.

  • y_p_w

    Years ago a top of the line TV would be a large front projector with a line doubler. Those could easily run around $20,000 for the setup, which didn’t even include the cost of building a movie-theater like setup. There are still quite a few of these setups still around, although I’d suspect that the projectors have been replaced with current digital versions.

    As for $5,000 – that’s nothing. Dolby sells a $50,000 42″ production monitor. Its display is a basic LCD, but the key is the backlighting using tens of thousands of individually controlled LEDs. I understand the cabinet is about a foot thick and requires several fans to keep the electronics from overheating.

  • Extramail

    Bottom line – all of these contracts are filled with legalese and I’d venture to guess most of us just check the box so we can complete the form. For example, when you go to a hotel and want to use the Internet, you have to check the box that says you agree to their terms of service before you can connect to the service. Never read the terms of service. Now granted, that is not signing up for three years of service but, hopefully, you get the point.

  • EdB

    Bottom line Dan, is the cost of the TV in this case is irrelevant.

  • EdB

    “Edit: Also, early cancellation fees are pretty standard now anytime anybody gives you hardware for free (phone, DVR, etc). It’s in the fine print, which they had time to read, and a lot of it is on DirecTV’s website.”

    Problem with this is that DirecTV does not GIVE you the equipment, they lease it to you. When you cancel, you may have to send the equipment back (depending on how old it is). DirecTV’s early cancellation is, to me, boarder line criminal. They are not subsidizing anything. The only purpose of it is to lock you in to their service. I’m going to be moving in a few months and it seems the mover’s deal now carriers a two year contract with it if you use it. I have been with DirecTV from shortly after they launched and because of this crap they are pulling, I will not be a DirecTV subscriber here in the near future.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    There’s a great deal of truth in what you say, which is why I suggested to Chris Elliott that he devote some attention to a nuts and bolts kind of column on how to avoid getting into trouble. Just pulling this out of thin air, but “3 things to look for in a contract” and sections that one should always read/skim through for certain catchphrases.

    I don’t know how the confirmation letter the Rickerts received was worded – was it legalese? tiny print? 20 pages long? But according to this article, the Early Cancellation Fee was spelled out and other people have commented that they were keenly aware of that Fee when they signed up for service. I’m guessing that that provision wasn’t so obscure that the average person who spent 5 minutes looking over the terms couldn’t have found it.

  • EdB

    This sounds more like a case of false claims by the OP, not DirecTV.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Agree 100%. The whole notion is ridiculous.

  • Cherity

    The cancellation fee is prorated. Obviously, you will pay less if you cancel closer to the 2-year contract end date.
    As far as the mover’s deal, all you need to do is call the “Customer Retention” department and state your case. They will definitely work with a long-time customer who is in good standing with them. Just remember to NOT speak with customer service but speak directly with CUSTOMER RETENTION. It may take a few minutes to get customer service to transfer you, but do not get off the phone until you have talked with CUSTOMER RETENTION.

  • EdB

    I understand it is prorated but $20/month early termination fee without subsidizing anything? The cell phone companies were only able to get away with $300+ termination fees because they were subsidizing the phone and they were made to make the ETF prorated to keep the courts happy. How can any company justify such an outrageous amount when they aren’t even subsidizing the equipment? The customer is only leasing it and for some equipment, has to pay an upfront fee on top of it!

    I know about talking to customer retention. Do that all the time with my cell provider just to get reasonable service. But in the case of DirecTV, I’m not sure I want to be associated with or a customer of, a business that treats it’s customers like this

  • Cherity

    I agree. Not sure why the dollar amount was even mentioned. I have a 3D TV and I only spent $1,200 on it, but the cost doesn’t guarantee the best picture. I had to call DirecTV tech support to get help tweaking it to get the best picture with the HD DVR. I wonder if the OP had a HD receiver to begin with, or if they realized that most HD channels are in 720p resolution. The channel has to actually broadcast in 1080p in order to get the best possible picture.

  • Cherity

    I agree. Not sure why the dollar amount was even mentioned. I have a 3D TV and I only spent $1,200 on it, but the cost doesn’t guarantee the best picture. I had to call DirecTV tech support to get help tweaking it to get the best picture with the HD DVR. I wonder if the OP had a HD receiver to begin with, or if they realized that most HD channels are in 720p resolution. The channel has to actually broadcast in 1080p in order to get the best possible picture.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    No TV here either.

  • Cherity

    I agree and I understand exactly what you’re saying. I had a similar issue with DirecTV and it wasn’t until I spoke with the Customer Retention department did anything get taken care of, which is why I suggested talking with them. But, before you make any decisions, just speak with them. It just may turn out in your favor.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, we don’t know WHEN they bought this TV. If it’s in the 50-60″ range, and they bought it 2 years ago, 5K might be about right. I mean, think about all those suckers who bought up the first plasma screen TVs for 10K and you’ll see how this is possible.

    BTW, I have a 27″ tube type TV. I won’t go for a flat screen until smoke comes pouring out the back of this one.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    While you call it a “nuisance fee”, the truth of the matter is – it’s a fee for cancelling service before your contract is up. The average consumer agrees to fees such as this all the time. For instance, every time you renew your contract with your cell service, you agree to said “nuisance fee” or cancellation fee, as it’s rightfully called.

    Were it not for fees such as these, consumers would be changing services every other day for no other reason than they can. It’s not a matter of “willingly” paying the fee but “begrudgingly” paying the fee and considering it a lesson learned.

    And, yes, if you have $5000 to throw around on a television, so should you have the money to “hand over to some large corporation” (OWS, anyone?) the necessary $460 when you try to leave their services before your contract says you’re able.

  • EdB

    The only reason I see for DirecTV to have the contract is to lock you into service with them. Once locked in, they are free to provide sub-par customer service and quality because as you say, you are not free to change every other day. While the cell phone companies are subsidizing phone, DirecTV is not doing the same with the equipment because they very clearly state on the website you are leasing the equipment and will have to return it. So in DirecTV’s case, I would agree it is a nuisance fee.

  • Eric

    I don’t know where you got your information from, but there are still plenty of TV’s that cost more than $5K.

  • jim6555

    Rupert Murdoch owned media companies have a track record for deceit and dishonesty when they report the news. from Ms. Rickert’s complaint, it appears that this Murdoch company has the same standards of business that infect its corporate cousins.

  • jim6555

    WCCO is the CBS network station for the Minneapolis/St.Paul. How could that get left out of the local channel lineup?

  • EdB

    Just because one media conglomerate has unethical business practice in reporting news, all media providers are unethical? Is that what you are saying? I really hope not because that type of logic fails on so many levels.

  • jim6555

    I’m just saying that Murdoch Enterprises a/k/a Fox News and a whole lot of newspapers throughout the world is a shady company. That was shown in the scandal last summer when it was learned that the London newspapers of Fox were hacking into the telephone conversations of British political leaders and members of the Royal Family. there is evidence that police investigators were bribed to look the other way. I’m certainly not saying that all media behaves like Fox. They are in a class by themselves.

  • EdB

    So in other words, your comment had absolutely no bearing on the discussion and was just an off topic rant of your personal dislike of Murdock?

  • james

    I’ve been
    MUCH happier with DISH than I ever was with DTV. Yes, each company has
    their own price guarantees, promos and contract stipulations, but with DISH the
    QUALITY and technology far outweigh anything I ever had with DTV. I
    especially like my free DISH Remote Access app; with the app, and my Sling
    Adapter I can take all my live TV with me anywhere I go. It works on
    tablets, phones and more, and includes Android devices as well as iOS. I
    work late hours at DISH, so having my TV with me on the go is a huge bonus! DirecTV likes to do a lot of ‘bait-and-switching’,
    but everything is crystal clear with DISH.

  • jim6555

    No Ed, I believe that my comments have a legitimate bearing on the subject because we are dealing with a corporate culture that survives by twisting the truth. I didn’t used to have a personal dislike of Murdock. I do dislike people and corporations who lie to me. For a very short time, I was a Direct-TV customer. I live in Tampa, Florida where we get some very heavy rainstorms. When signing up, I expressed a concern to the sales person that an acquaintance who had Dish Network told me that whenever heavy rain clouds moved in, he would lose the satellite signal. The salesperson assured me that Direct TV had “newer technology” and their customers did not experience this problem. The first Sunday that I had the service, I was watching a football game, heard thunder outside and within a couple of minutes, lost the satellite signal. I missed almost the entire second half of the game. The following morning, I called Direct-TV and told them that I was cancelling. At the time, there was a 14 day window for cancellations and I didn’t have to pay a penalty. It was a real pain in the butt staying home waiting for the technician to pick up the equipment and get the dish off my roof. I then had to wait for the cable company technician to reconnect our cable service. That’s the real story behind my gripe with Direct-TV.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’d agree with you if DirectTv were somehow subsidizing the equipment ( a la cell companies) or in some way giving you value by remaining with them for a longer period of time.

    I would point out that once your contract is up, i.e. the subsidized period, you can change cell carrier willy nilly.

  • EdB

    No, your first post was nothing but a personal rant against Murdock and nothing to do with the subject. It wasn’t until your third post, trying to justify your first, you finally tied something in with DirecTV, and in that one, there was only a glancing reference to the original post.

  • Comcast customer here. I have to say, that most of the people that I’ve known that have tried DirecTV or DISH Network have gone back to Comcast. The ones that have stayed so far only have standard definition TVs. Just like me :) (soon to change, one way or another). And even some of those that went satellite still retained their Comcast cable for Internet.

    And for that reason alone, I refuse to even think about satellite TV.

  • katestr

    All e-product purchases are fraught with compatibility
    issues. The buyer appears to be somewhat naive about e-delivery contracts or disingenuous
    in order to shed personal accountability for making an uniformed decision.

  • Ciprian Boboc

    Directv sells channels they don’t have. One example is n3D. Directv dropped support for that channel since July 2012 (1.5 years ago). But the channel still shows up in my channel listing for my zip code (98028).
    I looked at their channel lineup on their website and asked the sales person before signing for their service. Directv employees are not even aware they are not offering specific channels.
    Directv uses false advertisement and that is illegal.

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