Help! DirecTV is holding my TV hostage


After a series of technical problems and a move, Sean Reeves ends up with a DirecTV contract he never asked for. Can he get out of it without paying a termination fee?

Question: Please help! My girlfriend and I are desperate! DirecTV is making us pay for service we can’t use.

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We had originally signed up for a two-year contract from DirecTV in 2012. There was a technical issue with our SD receiver. After having it replaced once, and with the issue persisting, DirecTV offered us a free upgrade to an HD receiver because the SD ones were having a known issue.

We told them we did not want to pay $10 a month for HD service, and they offered three months free and insisted we could downgrade back to SD at the end of that period.

Later, we found out that they had extended our contract without telling us, just for getting a new DVR. One person swore they reversed that, but later we found out that was a lie.

Then, later that year, we moved, and DirecTV very graciously offered to waive the moving fee. The problem is that they demand a new two-year contract be signed — just to move!

Since we already had one unauthorized contract extension, this would put our service end date well into 2015. There is no way that is acceptable. So we moved and took our receiver. It is now sitting in a closet and we are paying $50 a month for TV service we can’t watch because we are on a budget and flat out can’t afford the $250 they quoted to end the contract.

Please help. We are desperate. I feel like they have to be breaking some law. How can they refuse to transfer my service, with or without fee, unless I sign a new contract? — Sean Reeves, Draper, Utah

Answer: You’re right, it doesn’t seem fair, but whenever you make a change to your DirecTV contract — even a minor one — you have to agree to another two-year term. Your case is a little bit egregious, since you couldn’t really control the technical problems and had no way of knowing that your move would trigger another two-year extension, unless you spent some quality time with the fine print. And who has time for that?

DirecTV is hardly the only company to do that. Cell phone companies also demand these types of contract extensions. For example, if I wanted an iPhone 6 this fall, I’d have to agree to a new two-year contract with AT&T. If I want to change my call plan — boom! — two more years. If I sneeze? Two years. OK, maybe not, but you get the point.

While companies, their lawyers, and corporate apologists love these rules, customers generally hate them. They want the flexibility to switch when they don’t like the service they’re getting. I think they deserve to have that flexibility, but then, I’m just a consumer advocate.

As far as I can tell, DirecTV’s customer agreement — the contract between you and the subscription TV company — doesn’t specifically address a required two-year re-up. You’re only informed of that requirement when you agree to extend the service. And again, you would have to pay close attention.

Based on your initial description of the problem, I wasn’t sure what had gone wrong, so I decided to ask DirecTV to check its records. According to its files, you accepted a “free” upgrade — their words — to a DIRECTV Plus HD DVR in 2012. At that time, your girlfriend accepted all the terms and conditions for the 24-month programming agreement with DirecTV’s third party verification department.

After I contacted DirecTV, it credited you with its movers fee and issued a $126 credit plus tax for time without service. A representative also explained why a new one-year agreement is required with a move. To make up for the trouble, DirecTV upgraded your service from its family plan to its “select” plan, with a 12-month $10 discount and a six-month $5 discount.

That seems like an exceptionally generous resolution.

Should mandatory contract extensions for subscription TV service be legal?

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68 thoughts on “Help! DirecTV is holding my TV hostage

  1. When I finally broke down and bought an HD TV, I had DirectTV. I wanted a new receiver so that I could get HD programming. Despite being a customer for over a decade and despite not having been under contract for years, they wouldn’t budge. They wanted another contract. Best thing they ever did for me.

    I dropped DirectTV, stream everything, and I’m saving $125+ a month. There is no commercials, always something to watch, and with a nice antenna, I don’t miss the locals. Thanks DirectTV!

      1. We switched from Dish Network to DirectTV. I am not happy paying for nothing to watch on TV and would be happy going back to an antenna, which we are considering.

  2. One clarification in your cell phone example: changing your rate plan with AT&T does not renew your contract for 2 years. I’ve done it a couple of times, last month most recently, and both instances were to go to a lower-cost plan.

  3. I don’t see a problem with a contract extension when the company incurs a new cost (moving, new receiver etc). Much like getting a new cell phone, the contract insures that they will recover what they have spent. If you don’t want to the extension, try offering to pay for what they are providing in full instead of getting it for “free” (added just for your Chris).

    1. And what exactly is THEIR cost, when I move? They’re changing the address on the account, and for that they think they’re owed something?

      1. For my neighbors… They sent two techs out to install the new dish and run cable from the dish to the distribution hub in the basement. Installed the receivers at each tv and verified everything worked.

        I’m guessing that they had several hundred dollars in parts (dish + coax) plus 10 plus man hours… That seems to be a pretty significant cost to me.

        1. Well, I guess for someone who’s incapable. Being an engineer, installing a satellite dish is actually pretty simple to me.

          1. Unfortunately, there is no self install option any longer. Too many customers went that route. They found they could not get the job done and requested a service call ( free of charge) which triggered a truck roll. In many instances the tech had to re install the entire system. This added costs, so Directv terminated self installs.
            Now, one CAN do it themselves, but they must BUY the equipment.

      2. The cost of the new satellite antenna, labor and materials.
        It may say “free install” but that simply means no out of pocket expense.
        One way or another the provider is going to get paid because it is incurring an expense

  4. I wish parents would teach kids that contracts are usually one-sided. If you don’t read the fine print, you kinda get what you deserve, to a certain point.
    I refuse to set up a wedding site because every single site’s terms of service states they have rights to any photos I upload and anything I write. I know chances are very slim that my “how we met” sorry or actual moment of engagement photos would be used by them, but they’re mine and that’s that. So I’ll be learning how to code my personal website where the url is my name. Any hosting (wrong word?) suggestions where you use your own website are appreciated.
    I also pay regular price for cell phones and ask extensive questions when I tweak my plan to make sure it doesn’t mess up my sweet data plan. In fact, I call several times to ask questions so that I talk to a few reps and see if answers are consistent. And of course I write down dates and names.

    1. I’m curious, what’s the reason for paying regular price for your cell phone, unless of course, you tend to switch carriers?

      1. I’m with Verizon. If I upgrade and “buy” a subsidized to (smart)phone through them, I get enrolled in another two year contract. That means I lose my low priced deal on unlimited data. Even though unlimited doesn’t really mean unlimited these days, it still beats a 500mb or 1gb plan.

        1. Perhaps in different places it’s different. When I got new phones my then-unlimited Verizon plan didn’t change.

          I changed because I’ve never gone over 2gb

      2. I switched to prepaid also. I have tmobile and my husband has at&t (they have the phone he wants). Both of our bills are $50/month for unlimited with 2gb of data. And that’s really $50, no taxes and fees added. While the phones are anywhere from $300-$600 upfront, the monthly bill is significantly cheaper for the exact same plan under contract. Over 2 years, it saves well over $1000. The upfront cost for the phone is high, but you end up paying that anyways in yhe two years.

        My husband also likes a new phone every 6-9 months, and we can get back an average of about 50% by selling it on craigs list. Its about 25% if you sell to a dealer, kiosk, online, etc. Then that goes towards the new phone. Its actually the reason we switched in the first place, and I worked out the numbers because I was curious. Our savings when I last checked was $700/year.

    2. I recommend registering your own domain name with a registrar like Network Solutions, so that you actually own it. Then use a hosting company like Blue Host (there are plenty more out there) that lets you mange it yourself. Most of the $1 to register or “Free Domain” places state in their contract that they own the domain and only let you use it. The second you want to switch hosting companies, they get to keep the domain. Go Daddy is notorious for this. Soem also say that they own your content.

      Good for you for doing it yourself!

  5. If you’re on a budget, don’t get Premium TV.
    You can live without it.

    Sorry, had to address the “receiver is in the closet because we can’t afford to use it (??) because we’re on a budget.” Does DirecTV charge by the program!?!?

    1. LIKE LIKE LIEK!!!

      I could not agree more.

      When I worked in A/R back in the day, I was shocked how many people refused to pay me, but still paid their cable bill. Why are people so dependent on TV?

      To save money when I changed jobs, I downgraded to a $10 a month plan where I get local channels and about 12 cable channels. I am not thinking about cancelling that. (The $10 a month is dependent on the fact that I also have internet service). I need the internet for work, but if push comes to shove, there are plenty of free wifi hot spots.

      1. You would not believe how important tv is to some people.
        I could offer up a myriad of stories about people and their addiction to tv.
        Just one…..I installed a system on a single wide to a woman who obviously had less than two nickels to rub together. 4 kids, all little. Getting the highest channel package. She had NO telephone in the home. No cell either. I asked if I could use her phone to activate programming. She said “it got cut off”…This means “you didn’t pay the bill”…

    2. Those mini dishes are all a ripoff. I went for FTA…1300 up front and 125 per year. And if I want to buy a hot chip I could probably cut that 125 down to 40. And if you don’t want to pay anything…well, that’s why they call it FTA.

  6. I have been with Directv for nearly 18 years. At first they were a bit iffy on explaining contract extensions. Because of a number of legal problems they now go over that information ad nauseam when I call about changes. They are very clear about contract extensions, especially when it comes to the move. They record everything to do with it, including the 3rd party verification. Directv should not have extended the contract because of the equipment problem. But the girlfriend should also have paid attention to what she was agreeing to as well. I have no problem with the contract extension on the move as the company is clear about that–on the phone, in print and on TV ads. After all, as we learn on this site, nothing is free. And as for cell phones—pay full price for the phone and do not extend your contract. It usually is less expensive than getting a subsidized phone anyway. Or go to a no-contract company. I went to T-Mobile which does not have the best US coverage but I am saving a fortune on roaming fees and international calls on my frequent travel abroad.

    1. With AT&T,a new “next” program, they take the price of the phone, divide by 18, and add that amount to your monthly bill for 18 months, but there is no contract. If you decide to leave, you simply finish paying off the phone.

      1. But I have to pay for a roaming package or obnoxiously high fees for data roaming if I exceed the package, T-Mobile eliminated that so I eliminated AT&T. Just made economic sense to me as my business travel takes me frequently to Europe.

  7. When I signed up with DirectTV, the guy told me I had to have a phone connection to each of the 4 boxes I had BOUGHT from Radio Shack because, he said. they ping the boxes daily. If the box is disconnected, they kill off the box. Lie #1. They do this to try to SELL you movies.
    When I got a HiDef TV, they promised me free upgrades for all 4 boxes. I told ’em I’d call back.
    I checked with the cable company, got their prices, and called DirectTV back to tell ’em I’d take the deal they offered. I got some snotty woman who said she’d not give me the deal the other guy had offered me. Lie #2. I hung up, went over to the cable company’s office, got their equipment, took home and plugged in, booted up, and it worked. Got a good deal from ’em because I had their internet for maybe 20 years or so – who remembers…..
    DURING the boot-up, some guy called from DirectTV asking me to stay with them. Told him I went with cable. He asked me to come back. NO. Is there anything we can do to make you come back to us? I wouldn’t come back to you if you stood on your heads, spat wooden nickles, and whistled Dixie. He then delivered some machine-gun speed unintelligible blather and rang off.
    I don’t do business with liars. They periodically send letters saying “We miss you! Come back!” Too bad they don’t include a stamped envelope – I’d send ’em a half pound of rocks. [This worked on a credit card solicitor who wouldn’t take NO for an answer after replying multiple times NO and STOP SENDING SOLICITATIONS. Scooped up some stones and put ’em into their envelope. Next was gonna be a brick.]

      1. I had to look that up. Fine, but it still made me angry to install phone lines for those liars. They don’t tell you WHY the require it. They obviously assume that everyone is a lying bottom-feeder like they are. They did other lies which I didn’t list. Peace on ’em, and thank you for that explanation.

          1. Doesn’t matter if it’s not been in force for years. They made me angry three times – they’re Oh-You-Tee OUT!

            It’s amazing how they called back within about 45 minutes after Miss Nasty blew me off, trying to exhort me to return to sending them money. I rather thought the guy was a dolt in that I told him I’d just returned from the cable company office with their cable box and hooked it up, and he kept asking me what he could do to get me to come back. They should have thought of that when Ms Nasty did her disdainful dismissal of me.

            After he asked me for the third time, I told him he could stand on his head, spit wooden nickels and whistle “Dixie” and I still wouldn’t change my mind.

            Just as in the restaurant business: when a customer gets exercised, the restaurant drops off his radar screen. I had a bad experience in Olive Garden about 30 years ago, and haven’t been back since. Pass it often; don’t even notice that it’s there.

            Subway sandwiches used to have meat in ’em about the thickness of onion-skin typing paper [remember that? 🙂 ]. I haven’t been in one of those places in at least 20 years, even though I’ve been told that they have improved their bread sandwiches to include substantive fillings. There’re many other places to go; they got on my black list and I see no reason to remove ’em.

      2. And to make sure the receivers were located where the customer claimed they were. The NFL was a big part of that. With the Sunday Ticket, bar owners were setting up residential accounts and then taking the receivers to their business and using them there. That was just one scam.

  8. I am not a fan of satellite TV at all. I vote that people need to buy their equipment themselves, and no contracts like this should exist. You buy it, you pay for service as you use it. You move, you pay for the new installation.

    I personally think the fact that these companies give out or subsidies equipment (even though they want it back) and pay for someone to install things and then use their contracts to recoup the cost is ridiculous. I would like to see a whole industry shift. Consumers buy their own hardware, and the service provides compete based on their service.

    1. Well, I think people should have the choice whether they want subsidized equipment or to purchase it.

      1. As long as they charge a different rate I am okay with them offering a choice.

        When I asked ATT about their new plan where I pay for my phone my self and have no contract, they said my current rate would stay the same and I would pay an extra $ amount each month until I paid off the phone. I asked what the point was and they said no contract and I can upgrade whenever I want. So their “Pay your own way” plan would cost me more each month than getting the subsidy. I would be paying off a non existent subsidy, and paying for the phone on top of it. A big win for ATT.

        1. All the more reason to take the subsidy. 🙂

          My basic business philosophy is to give choices provided there is meaningful disclosure so that the consumer can make an informed decision.

    2. I want to go back to an antenna. We rarely watch TV any more, as nothing of interest is on, even though we have access to 200-300 stations.

      1. We did it abut 7 years ago. Came back from a long vacation, went to restart the service w a local provider, $85.!! No way. Went back to an antenna and a Roku box, subscribing to Netflix only. You buy the box on line or Best Buy and no monthly charge. Monthly bill $8.47 for Netflix! That is all we pay. No commercials, watch when we want, what we want. We would never ever go back to being held hostage to a company. We can pick a series and watch segments every evening, 42 minutes, no commercials. Same w movies. We get the national channels (ABC, NBC, CBS & FOX) and a few more plus 3 public channels on the antenna. No charge there. Saved thousands of $$$$ and could not be happier.

        1. I was given a Roku for Xmas but haven’t even looked at it, yet. We are paying $105 a month for what? I watched 1/2 hour this am of news. I’ll was PBS on the 4th. Yes, time to do something!

          1. I can not believe you aren’t using it. There are tons of channels with everything from sports, religion, kids, more movie channels, channels from other countries, lots more. You also can hook up w Netflix or Hulu as we did. You are wasting your money..Besides, I really do not watch much regular tv except for the weather, Jeopardy, and a few other things I enjoy. The news is always bad so no point in watching it, though it is there if I want to watch. WE have had ours 7 years, pd, $79. at Best Buy, so that breaks down to $7.90 a year for a ton of channels.

          2. What bottom-feeding company will promise you stuff, blow you off when you agree to the deal, and then kiss your stern ramp as you sail off into the sunset?

  9. It seems like all I ever hear about DirecTV is how nasty they are in seeking to enforce their abusive terms and practices. I’ll be staying away, forever. 🙂

  10. We had DirecTV and had a DVR issue. They sent us a new one, same problem. We went through 7 refurbished DVRs in less than 6 months, and tried to cancel our service because they weren’t providing their end. They wanted the termination fee, and we argued that they weren’t providing service. They finally waived that fee, but then “didn’t receive the last DVR”. Nevermind the fact that they had received all the others just fine. The problem lies in the fact that they use and print their own shipping labels so the tracking is not what you would normally get from UPS or FedEx. They’re basically pointless, as you can’t track them via those sites. It is strictly for DirecTv’s internal use. And of course the fee for a missing DVR just happened to be the exact amount of the termination fee. As we kept fighting I found one rep who would try to help and gave me her direct line. She found that the DVR was “misplaced” during receiving. She would reverse the fee and then someone would reissue it. Went on for weeks. Her manager finally thought they fixed it. We thought everything was good and settled. Later though, they sent us to collections for the DVR or the termination fee. We never did know in the end. They stopped responding to our calls, and we were told once or contact was terminated they no longer could help. After that we got only netflix and no TV and never looked back. Good riddence!

  11. i guess they need the ‘2 year’ issue because of people like my mother in law

    not even kidding- she switches cable/satalite plans as soon as she can, so she gets the ‘new customer’ discounts.

    I really hope she will stop, now that my father in law is too sick to take down/return the equipment over and over.

    1. I bought my standard def boxes and dish from Radio Shack. Dish is still up there. Birds like to sit on it.

  12. I’m taking a wee break from posting on any forum, but I did want to mention that “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” is also $2.99 on Apple iBooks today.

      1. Awww…. thanks Emanon! Sometimes I feel that with all of the travel agents, airline employees, attorneys, etc. who are regular posters, I’m just a little ol’ gal from Texas who gets on a plane 2-3 times a year. But I do love to get on a plane. 🙂 And I miss you guys too!

  13. i’m so glad i don’t watch tv! (i only have an ancient tv with a digital converter box, and that’s all i need for the rare times i want to watch something.)
    but it’s not just TV, it’s any kind of internet, telephone or television service that get dinged by these unsuspected contract extensions. and you don’t even realize it, because they don’t tell you or send you a new contract at the end of your first term! some hidden clause in the first contract allows them to automatically extend what you thought was a two year contract, into a one or two year renewal, just because you keep paying the bill!

    1. That’s why I’m a cable internet kinda guy. No equipment to buy, no long term contracts to worry about.

      1. yeah, and you’re a lawyer, so you probably read all the tiny, fine print clauses in your contract! (if you got one, which i never really did with verizon. i might be moving in the next 6 months, after 5 years at this address, and i sure hope i’m not going to get dinged with some termination fee because of some “auto-renew” clause in the original contract.)

        1. File a change of address form with the post office saying you moved to Alaska. Then file one in Alaska saying you went to Hawai’i. Then file another saying you went to Little America with the penguins.

  14. They pulled something similar on me, and Chris saved my bacon. In my case, the original installer upsold me on a service plan that included service visits by technicians. I asked him at the time whether that covered moves, because I knew I’d be moving. He said it did. I know, get it in writing. When I did move, DirecTV claimed that my service plan, for which I’d been paying monthly, didn’t cover moves, and that since I hadn’t been with them long enough, they wouldn’t cover the move, even with a contract extension, and that I’d have to pay $299 to have the equipment installed in my new house. Oh, and if I didn’t pay the $299, I’d still have to pay for the service for the duration of my contract, even though I’d have no dish. Chris managed to get them to waive the moving fee in exchange for a contract extension after I had gotten a firm “No.” from everyone I could reach. I guess the moral of these stories is that DirecTV is only good for you if you never plan on moving. Or upgrading your equipment – which also begs the question, if I have to pay $99 for the receiver when I sign up, and $10/mo to use the receiver, why do I have to sign a contract extension to get an upgraded one? Whose receiver is it?

  15. direct tv is still very $$$$ and we keep getting less channels and no dvr.. also if u do not use a tv in a room for 3 weeks they turn it off even whenu are paying the monthly hefty rate and the$6.00 ripoff for the receiver in that room… cahdot

  16. When Directv replaces a receiver and the receiver is an upgrade, it starts a new two year agreement. This is spelled out in the contract at the time of the initial install.
    This has been company policy for years.
    Note. I was in the satellite business for 12 years

  17. Just a point of contention on the note re: cell phone companies extending contracts. While new equipment at a discounted rate from one of the Big 3 will typically extend the contract, simply changing a calling plan usually will not.

    Now, I say usually because there are sometimes (but very rarely) promotions that are only available with new or extended contracts. I haven’t seen those in a very long time though, and I’ve been in telecommunications since 2006. But if you want to go up or down in size for the bundle you currently pay for, I would say better than 95% of the time a new contract or extension is not required.

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