Q. Shouldn’t DIRECTV be in a breach of contract for not having my local channel 9? I got DIRECTV to watch all my channels and now they’ve taken my favorite one away. Isn’t that a violation of my two-year agreement? Shouldn’t I be able to cancel now without paying a penalty? — Jennifer, Landover, Maryland.
Jennifer, I have received similar inquiries in the last week from both DIRECTV and Dish subscribers after they lost local channels in two separate fee fights. I’ve addressed this issue in past columns, but let me tackle it again because of the recent actions.
When you made a two-year commitment to DIRECTV or Dish, perhaps you might have hesitated if you had known that some of your favorite channels would be pulled from the satcaster’s lineup, even if temporarily.
But that doesn’t mean you can break your two-year contract. Before I explain, a little background on the two-year agreement that many pay TV providers require, including Dish and DIRECTV.
Like other companies, both in and outside the TV business, the satcasters use two-year agreements to keep customers from service-hopping. Without them, subscribers might switch to their local cable provider every time something bad happens, such as a channel blackout during a programmer fee fight or an increase in one’s bill.
To encourage consumers to sign the two-year deal, Dish offers such incentives as two-year price locks, meaning their prices won’t change during the entire 24-month period. In contrast, DIRECTV nearly doubles prices in the second year of the two-year agreement. However, DIRECTV provides free NFL Sunday Ticket, and premium channels such as HBO Max, as incentives to sign for two years rather than price guarantees.
Many subscribers agree to the two-year deals because the offers seem irresistible.
But as you now understand, Jennifer, the two-year commitment forces you to stay with DIRECTV (or Dish) if the company does something you don’t like. That is, unless you want to pay the cancellation fee, which, for DIRECTV, is $20 a month for every month left in the two-year agreement. (Dish in July reduced its fee from $20 a month to $10 a month for new customers.)
This is why I strongly advocate that consumers refrain from signing two-year deals.
But what if Dish or DIRECTV stops carrying channels it said it would carry when you signed that agreement, you ask? Isn’t the TV service in violation of the agreement?
No. The terms of the two-year pact expressly state that all programming is subject to change:
“All packages, programming, features, and functionality and all prices and fees not included in price lock are subject to change without notice,” Dish says.
“Programming, pricing, terms and conditions subject to change at any time,” states DIRECTV’s two-year contract.
So, Jennifer, you will have to ride it out unless you’re okay with paying the cancellation fee. There’s no loophole in the two-year agreement.
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— Phillip Swann