Q. I was thinking of signing up for DIRECTV to get the NFL Sunday Ticket. They have a two year contract where you can get it for free and get cheaper prices for your package. My question is can you trust them to follow this deal? Are they a trustworthy company? Will they raise prices during the two years? And what if I want to cancel, will they charge me for that? — Ethan, Indianapolis.
Ethan, let me explain quickly why you should never sign a two-year contract with any pay TV provider. And then I will address your trust question regarding DIRECTV.
On two-year agreements, you need to know that you’ll have to pay a penalty if you cancel your service before the two years are up. In DIRECTV’s case, the fine is $20 a month for the remaining months of your deal. That can be expensive if you cancel even a year into the two-year deal. Twelve months multiplied by $20 comes to $240.
Second, the two-year agreement takes away your leverage as a smart consumer. For instance, what if your pay TV provider drops your favorite channel six months into the deal? You could switch to another service so you could still watch it, but then you would have to pay the stiff termination fee.
With cost-conscious pay TV operators becoming more picky about what they carry, losing your favorite channel during the two years is a real possibility. (A few years ago, The Weather Channel echoed this concern.)
Third, you need to know that your two-year agreement often includes language that allows the provider to raise prices at some point. In DIRECTV’s two-year contract, for instance, prices almost double in year two, starting with month 13.
So, despite the apparent benefits, please, please, stay away from two-year agreements. They are not in your best interest, and you will likely experience some regret at some point.
Now, as for DIRECTV:
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to trust DIRECTV, and its owner, AT&T, on almost anything these days. The Internet is overflowing with stories about DIRECTV erroneously charging customers for early termination, lost equipment, and a host of other things.
For instance, here’s a story from last October about DIRECTV trying to charge a 102-year-old woman an early termination penalty because she died. Here’s one about DIRECTV sending a bill to an ex-customer for equipment fees after she had returned the equipment.
And here’s another one, and another one, and another one. And look at these consumer complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau. (DIRECTV does have a A- rating with BBB, which does show some effort to remedy these issues.)
This simply happens too often. I also have received numerous e-mails from DIRECTV customers, and ex-customers, about incorrect billing. In fact, I got one just yesterday who says DIRECTV is charging him $500 for early termination although he says the company never told him he was even in a two-year agreement. The satcaster put him in the two year contract after it replaced a defective receiver, he says.
“My wife and I have been DIRECTV customers since February 1995. When we ordered the service, it was a lot different than it is now,” he says.
I understand that all companies can experience problems like this, but I simply can’t recommend anyone signing up for DIRECTV until I see a stronger commitment to customer service. Buyer beware.
Last note: I am not alone in this assessment. Since AT&T purchased DIRECTV in 2015, the satellite TV service has lost more than 4 million subscribers.
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— Phillip Swann