Dish: Can You Break the 2-Year Contract?

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Q. I haven’t had my regional sports channel for months on Dish so I want to get out of my two-year contract. Shouldn’t I be able to break the contract without a penalty because Dish took away my sports channel. I had it when I signed up and I wouldn’t have signed up if I had known they would take away my favorite channel. Seems to me that they broke the agreement with me, right? — Hector, Boise, Idaho. 

Hector, as you know, Dish will offer a guaranteed monthly price for two years if you agree to sign a two-year agreement. (In contrast, DIRECTV will only guarantee the price for the first year of the two-year contract. In year two, the prices roughly double.)

If you decide to end your service before the two years are up, Dish says it will charge you a $20 a month penalty for every month left in the agreement. For example, if you left after month 15, you would have to pay a penalty of $180 (9 months x $20.)

But many Dish subscribers have sent me e-mails, or posted comments here, that suggest they can break the two-year contract because the satcaster no longer carries the Fox-branded regional sports networks. Dish lost the 22 Fox RSNs last July when it could not reach a new carriage agreement with their then owner, Disney. (Disney later sold the channels to Sinclair.)

The argument here is that the Fox channels were part of their Dish programming packages when they signed up. So by removing them, Dish has violated the agreement.

I understand the emotion behind the argument, but unfortunately there is no legal basis for it. The terms of Dish’s two-year agreement clearly states that it may change its programming lineup at any time.

“All packages, programming, features, and functionality and all prices and fees not included in (the two-year) price lock are subject to change without notice,” Dish’s contract states.”After 2 years, then-current everyday prices for all services apply.”

In theory, Dish could remove most of its programming lineup and you would still be under contract.

Hector, I know that sounds unfair, but it’s one of the several reasons why I recommend that consumers never, ever sign a two-year contract, no matter how enticing it may be. The two-year agreement always benefits the company more than the consumer, which is why so many companies offer them.

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