My life in television purgatory came to an end recently when Kassia and I moved back into our home, after an extensive remodel, and re-activated our DirectTV service.
[ad#AdSense1] My brief stint with Charter Cable reminded me of what truly bad customer service is like. Never mind the torture device that Charter calls a DVR. The day Charter Cable is the only option in my life is the day I stop watching television. Which is pretty much what I did for most of the spring and early summer.
Given the amount of time I’ve spent ranting about Charter Cable over the past four months I should be happier about my return DirectTV.
While I am still happy with DirectTV’s service, I have to say that the company’s equipment leasing scheme has me feeling like I’ve been fleeced.
When I think about watching TV, what I’m really thinking about is watching TV on my trusty TiVo. Without the TiVo pay TV isn’t worth watching. TiVo is an essential filter that brings value to my television viewing experience.
I was more than a little annoyed to discover that in order to upgrade our service to an HD package, I would have to buy a new DirectTV brand receiver/DVR.
I was fine with the part where I had to buy a new DVR, my TiVo is nearly seven years old. It was the part about not being able to buy a new TiVo that really bothered me. My recent Charter experience demonstrated how truly horrible a DVR can be. Don’t let anyone tell you that all DVRs are the same. Those people are fools who watch commercials by choice and buy what they’re told to buy.
After doing a bit of research (research = talking with Tim Gaskill) I decided that the DirectTV DVR couldn’t possibly be worse than the Charter DVR, and might actually be a slight upgrade from my ancient TiVo Series One with the hole drilled in the case and a frayed ethernet cable hanging out of the side. My TiVo has been modded so much it looks like something Homeland Security should know about.
I decided to call my friends at DirectTV to upgrade my service.
The helpful DirectTV sales lady explained that the new DVR would cost $199, and that an additional $4.99 per month lease fee would be added to my bill.
Wait a minute? Did she say lease fee? If I was leasing the DVR what was I paying $199 for?
The operator explained that the lease fee isn’t really a lease fee at all. She doesn’t know why they call it that. It’s actually more of a DVR service fee.
She assured me that the $199 that was about to be charged to my Visa was indeed a purchase.
To be honest, I felt sort of strange even asking. Why else would I pay $199 for a DVR if I wasn’t actually buying it? If I walked into a Circuit City or a Best Buy and paid $199 for the very same box I certainly wouldn’t ask the sales person to verify that I was, in fact, really buying the DVR.
So, I take the operator at her word and finalize my purchase.
Three weeks later my next bill arrives. I’m looking at the details and I see the $4.99 lease fee. Actually seeing it on my bill makes me more curious.
I do a bit of research on The Google and quickly realize that I’ve been had. The lease fee that is not really a lease fee is, in reality, a lease fee.
And the $199 I paid for the DVR? That’s also a lease fee. Except it’s really more of a down payment.
I’ve come to find that I didn’t really buy anything, and the new DVR that’s sitting in my living room is actually property of DirectTV. If I cancel my subscription tomorrow I have to return the box or pay a penalty.
Oh, then there’s the small matter of the two year commitment. Of course I agreed to that without complaint. After all, I’ve been with DirectTV for nearly eight years and I have every reason to expect that I might be with them for another 8, or maybe even 80.
At least that’s what I thought before they snookered me into this crazy equipment lease deal.
Could this possibly get worse? Well, yes, in fact, it can. It turns out that the DVR I’m leasing comes with a 90 day warranty. If the damn thing breaks after 90 days I have to pay to repair or replace it. Even though it technically isn’t my DVR.
DirectTV has a solution to that problem. For an additional monthly fee I can insure the DVR that isn’t really my DVR against any possible damage.
Honestly, I don’t know how this can possibly be legal. Apparently I’m not alone. There’s a class action lawsuit in the works and I’ve discovered a legion of disgruntled DirectTV subscribers (and former subscribers) on various AV forums online.
If you read the fine print you find that DirectTV does actually mention the lease agreement, but it is so buried on their website that I can’t actually link to it. The lease is not mentioned on the the DVR product page or the page that lists the details of each service package. And based on my experience, some of DirectTV’s own employees don’t really understand the lease agreement.
Here’s what DirectTV needs to do to make things right:
1. Provide better disclosure. DirectTV needs to be more obvious about the fact that all equipment is being leased, and more transparent about the terms of the lease. They also need to disclose the total cost of the lease prior to signing consumers to a long-term commitment.
2. Educate all DirectTV sales staff and affiliates (including sales people at Best Buy, Circuit City, and any other retail outlet that sells DirectTV equipment leases) about the terms of the lease, and instruct them to provide customers with accurate information.
3. Give customers the option of purchasing their own equipment, and support third party products like TiVo.
In the past I’ve been something of a DirectTV advocate, providing a strong recommendation for the service and encouraging friends and family to sign-up.
After this experience I’m much less likely to recommend DirectTV, and I’ll probably spend quite a bit of time warning people about DirectTV’s deceptive equipment leasing practices.