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Patterns in satellite TV complaints

September 16, 2010 5:28:01 AM PDT
In the past three years, more than 53,000 customers nationally 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 the BBB recommends that TV viewers planning to make the switch to satellite read the fine print closely.

The complex policies and fees that are sometimes unique to satellite service has led many customers to complain to the BBB about the contractual obligations outlined-but often overlooked-in the fine print of their agreement. In Chicago and Northern Illinois, complaints for Television - Cable, CATV & Satellite companies totaled 768 for this current 12-month period.

"Many complaints to the BBB about satellite providers stem from steep cancellation fees," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "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."

Julie Ahlden, a complainant from Crescent City, Ill. stated, "I signed up for DirecTV and was told I could cancel within the first three days for a refund. I had problems the first day and cancelled. They had embellished what features I would be able to get. They said that I could use the DVR to tape four shows at a time but did not tell me that I could only watch on one television. I called and was promised the refund in 7-10 days. Someone at DirecTV did not process it within the cancellation period and even though they admitted it was their fault they took six weeks to get the refund of over $400. I did not get a refund until after I complained to the Better Business Bureau. I got it all back except for $50 that they deducted."

The following are examples of common complaints about satellite TV providers:

* 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. It is important that consumers take note of the end date of these offers and can afford the full price when signing up for service.

* Billing Issues - Consumers need to be conscious of all the programming they are paying for to avoid getting charged for channels and services that are not on their contract. Also, when returning equipment, consumers should keep receipts as proof in case problems with billing occur later.

* Upgrades Resulting in Contract Extension - When upgrading, consumers need to learn all the terms and conditions in order to avoid surprises later such as contract extensions and early termination fees.

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

* Write Down the Facts - 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 Terms and Conditions Carefully - Pay close attention to the terms on introductory offers, equipment costs and the cancellation policy.

* Review Your Billing Statements - 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, review your monthly bill 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 the 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 by going to www.bbb.org. For more information on consumer safe shopping, visit www.bbb.org


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