Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why I Hate Direct TV...

I've got to warn you that this is a very long and very angry post. If you don't like rants, then come back later for my next post, I promise it will be kinder and gentler.

Once upon a time I was a happy cable TV subscriber. Cable TV was clear, dependable and when the power went out, we lost the picture only when a line came down or a transformer blew out somewhere. We would call them, and they would say "We are working on it, we'll have it back up as soon as possible!" And they always did. Then I discovered Tivo when Oprah had her favorite things show one Christmas, and knew I had to have it. Tivo is smart system that not only finds and records all your favorite TV shows and movies, but will actually learn your likes and dislikes and keep a full memory load of everything it thinks you will like. And I usually do. I tell it I like Joan Crawford, within several days it has found me four movies starring Joan. I tell it I love the old show Twilight Zone, it brings me in some episodes of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Hour as a side dish. When I became obsessed with Hedy Lamarr, Tivo scoured the airwaves and found copies of Strange Woman, Samson and Delilah, and Tortilla Flat. Between Cable and my Tivo, I was happy TV viewer. I let the Tivo catch all my favorite shows (Simply Quilts and Boston Legal) and I watched them when it was convenient for me, not when they were "on". I always had a few great episodes waiting for me when I sat down to quilt.

But then the price of cable started to escalate, it seemed like every month for a while the bill just grew and grew, and the Tivo was another $12.95 a month. So we cut back on our package, cutting first Showtime, then Starz, The Movie Channel, Cinemax, and finally my beloved HBO. (Carnivale was the greatest TV show EVER!) Then I lost Simply Quilts when it changed from HGTV to the DIY channel, which was not part of the channel package we recieved from cable at that time. I became a sad TV viewer.

Every Saturday we get a bundle of trashy ads in the mailbox, and as I went to throw them out one lovely Saturday I happened to notice the ad for DirecTV which stated that it was less expensive than cable, free DVR with certain packages, free installation, and a channel lineup that included DIY. Since we had recently purchased a new flat screen HD TV we were especially interested in the HD programming the ad assured us DirecTV had, including more HD channels than cable or any other dish network. Plus, a big draw for me, my Mom in Florida had Direct TV and the DVR was a real Tivo. To further save money, the phone company was advertising "bundled savings" if you had their phone, internet, and Direct TV accounts together. So it SEEMED like a really good way to save money. So I asked my phone company to send a Direct TV representative to my house to set something up. I asked the nice lady at the phone company "You heard me say HD, right? I want to make sure I get an HD DVR..." "Yes," she replied, "I wrote it down." So we cancelled our cable service and waited (and waited) for our DirecTV appointment. I gave my daughter my Tivo box since we had cancelled that service also. The wait seemed like forever, but it was actually closer to 3 weeks.

So when the big day came in June 2006, I was pretty excited to get TV service back again. I could have hugged the nice man who came to set it up for us. That is, until I saw the DVR he brought in. It wasn't HD. And it wasn't Tivo. When I told him we had ordered an HD Tivo reciever, he looked at the order and said "No, you didn't. And these are the SD DVRs Direct TV is giving us to install now. We only install Tivos with HD." My heart fell. I blamed the lady at the phone company (yes I wrote it down...) "Well, I said, that is what we wanted. Not this one." He explained they were very busy right now and it would probably be a month before we could get another appointment. I could have cried. (Ok, I am really dependent on my TV. I admit it.) We talked to someone at Direct TV, and the serviceman made a few calls himself. Somewhere he found us an HD Tivo box, and he had time to go get it and come back and set it up. One problem. It was expensive. How expensive? Over $500. No kidding. So Gary and I talked. I was adamant I was having that Tivo. He thought the deal was nothing like the ad claimed. "But it's a Tivo, we shouldn't pass it up..." was my deciding argument. Out came the credit card.

So after a lot of finagling to set up a satellite dish on a pole on our neighbor's lawn, running cords and burying them under the driveway, and setting up the non-HD DVR in my studio space for catching Simply Quilts, we finally got to turn on the TV and witness the $500 miracle of HD TV. He showed me the HD channels. Nine of them, two of which were HBO and Showtime, which we had not signed up for. So seven, but 2 of those were ESPN, and we don't watch sports. So 5 of them. Mostly travel and nature shows, and a movie channel, playing mostly movies from the 70's, 80's and 90's, which we had, mostly, seen. Well I was beyond disappointed, until he explained to me that they (DirecTV) had a huge package of HD channels, including network channels, coming out by the end of that year, 2006. "And we will be able to get them on this DVR?" I asked. "Yes you will." He replied. No doubts in his mind. So I regretfully signed the papers saying he had satisfactorily installed the equipment and it was working properly, blissfully unaware of the teeny tiny fine print stating that I agreed to lease this equipment for 2 years.

Well the first week or so I enjoyed my armchair visits to Bali, Aruba, and Indo-China. I had to show everyone who came into the house what Bali looks like in HD. And I watched some old movies like Easy Rider for the umpteenth time, this time in HD. The rest of our shows we still watched in standard definition as we waited for the many "promised" channels to come. And what I learned about satellite TV is that when it rains, the picture is fuzzy. When it's couldy, the picture is snowy, and in a thunderstorm, it's non-existent. The HD channels become pixelated, turning the picture into a set of multicolor blocks of random color.

The DirecTV SD DVR I unfortunately had accepted and had it attached to my studio TV. From the beginning that "HR-15" as they call it was nothing but trouble. Every day when I turned on my TV to find something to watch while quilting, I would get nothing but gray. When I complained to DirecTV about it, they told me I had to simply press the red reset button, and it would come right back on. What it actually did was go through a 5 minute procedure starting with a "Starting up" screen cycling through many other annoying screens (particularly annoying is the "Almost There" screen, which lasts so long that you know it was no where even close when it came on...) ending with an "Acquiring Signal" which progresses slowly from 0% to 100%. Every single day.

I finally decided the box was just defective and called and told them so. I didn't think I should have to reset it every time I watched it, and a nice lady said she would send a new HR-15 out to me if I would just pay for the shipping. Why did I have to pay $20.95? I wasn't at fault. Their box was! But I paid it to get over the aggravation. And it might have been worth it if the new box had been in any way different from the first, but it wasn't. Same story. Same stupid red reset button. Same every day "Almost There!" screen. Bleah!!!!!!

I called one day complaining about the picture on the flat screen and was told to press the red reset button. Since I was looking at the living room TV with the Tivo unit, I told the lady there is no reset button on this unit. She was stumped. Then she asked me what the weather was like, I thought she was simply making conversation. I told her "Oh, it's raining a little here today..." I jumped a mile when she answered loudly "Well no wonder you don't have a clear signal!" Just because of a little drizzle? Can't they send a better signal than that? Heck, I can still hear perfectly fine when I use my cell phone in the rain, even if it is pouring.

So, the end of 2006 came and went. No new HD channels. I called and asked about them, I was told they were having some trouble with them and they woud be available by spring. Spring 2007 came and went, I called them and asked again, where are all these new HD channels, and I was told something I did not want to hear. I may not be able to get them on my precious Tivo DVR. And a new DirecTV HD DVR (non-Tivo) would be $229. Well I was livid. "But you promised!! Do you think I would have paid $500 for an HD DVR that only got 5 (or 7 if you count the sports) HD channels?" Repeatedly they told me in an aggravating monotone "We are sorry but there is nothing we can do about that." With all the trouble I had had with the Direct TV SD DVR, I certainly was not anxious to replace my Tivo with a second DirecTV DVR.

So we called a few more times to complain that we were unsatisfied with the DirecTV service and that we felt they owed us a new box since they had charged us so much for this one that never delivered the channels promised. One night Gary and I got a real smooth talker on the line, someone who seemed to understand our aggravation and offered friendly helpful advice. When he heard about my aggravation with the second HR-15 DVR, he said "You are probably destroying them by pressing the red button every day! Never press the red button." "But that is what the people on the DirecTV helpline told me to do!" I answered. He said never listen to anyone on the first line, you needed tech support with issues like that." Plus he said I should spend some time watching the DirecTV information channel, I could learn a lot about technical issues like that, plus I would learn many ways in which the direcTV DVR remotes were superior to the Tivo remotes (my other big complaint. Tivo has those wonderful circus peanut shaped remote controls that make my hands happy to hold them, and are the most user friendly remotes ever invented. They actually have green "Thumbs Up" and red "Thumbs Down" buttons, so that if you really like or dislike a show, you just press the appropriate button and Tivo knows one more thing about you! i.e., Casablanca=1 thumbs up, Dora the explorer=3 thumbs down.)

Anyway this real sweet talker told me he could let me have a new HD DVR for DirecTV's magic price of $20.95 if I agreed to extend my lease for 2 more years. I told him I would have to be crazy to do that because I had had so much trouble with the service so far! Absolutely not. And I was not aware of the original 2 year agreement until I had complained and threatened to cancel my service because of the HR-15 troubles. As far as I was concerned, I wanted cable back as soon as possible. I was tired of the aggravation. So Gary talked to Mr Sweet Talker for a while and got him to agree to send the new unit without an additional lease. And yes, stupidly, we paid the $20.95. Every single time you have a problem with anything at DirecTV, their answer is ALWAYS "Pay us more money" and maybe they can help you. So in August 2007 we got the new fancy DirecTV HR-20 HD DVR, with it's confusing non-user friendly remote control which does not in any way make my hand happy. Will you just look at those color coded buttons, they mean something different and totally unrelated on every screen you can pull up. And they never ever mean Thumbs Up= I like it, or Thumbs Down= I don't. Even if they are red and green (and blue and yellow too.)

But I did not send back my $500 Tivo, no way. I had it hooked up to my studio TV where it works day and night finding Bogart movies at the moment, also anything with the word "Frankenstein" anywhere in the title or description. And it can even find movies made in a certain year. 1942 is my current year of interest. I don't know why. They will have to pry my Tivo from my cold dead fingers I fear, long after it's become obsolete. (I might even run back into my burning home to rescue my Tivo...)

So after the new DirecTV HR-20 box was installed, they began charging us for 3 leased DVRs every month. Every time the bill came, we had to call and try to explain that we were only using 2 DVRs, the third one was replaced and they never took it back. And no we would not pay them $20.95 for a recovery box to send it back. In December they finally agreed to send me a free recovery kit after months of asking. And why were they even saying we had three leased recievers? Hadn't we paid $522 for the Tivo box? Didn't that make it ours? According to one lady at DirecTV, yes we owned it, and the $5.99 monthly lease fee was so they would allow us to watch what was on it... HUH?

Well, one day last week, Friday July 18 2008, we lost our signal. Completely. Nothing on either TV. So I called DirectTV, foolishly expecting them to help me. I have no idea why. I told them I had no signal. No picture. NO SERVICE. They were so helpful they offered to send a service technician to my home for $79.95. I have to say I didn't take that news well. I wanted to know why they expected me to pay that kind of money when I couldn't even see a picture on the TV. Knowing that my 2 year contract ended in June, I felt I had some pretty good cards in my hand if they wanted to keep me as a customer. I said I wouln't pay that. She had a counter offer. If I signed up for the maintenance package which costs $5.99 a month, she would send a tech out for only $19.95. I said no thank you, I pay DirecTV over a thousand dollars a year already. Wouldn't you think they would at least want me to see a picture so they could keep me as a customer? Hmmm, no. They wouldn't help me unless I agreed to give them more money. So I told them to disconnect my DirecTV service. She gleefully told me "Fine, but you will have to pay a HUGE early termination fee!" She really said "huge". I asked her "So you people will hold me to a service agreement even if I have no service??? You want me to just keep sending money every month even though I CAN'T SEE ANYTHING ON MY TV?" Side note... when arguing with a service representative of any company it is always a good idea to call them "you people" as many times as you can in the conversation. They get all wishy washy and super-duper helpful. NOT! So I hung up and went to check on the dates of the teeny tiny print contract. As I thought, it should have ended in June 2008.

So that evening I had Gary call DirecTV to find out more. He can keep his cool much better than I can in a phone conversation. You have to know him very well to understand that that tiny little rise in the pitch of his voice is actually anger. He asked when the contract ended. They gave us the date of August 2009. When he told them we had only signed a contract (without reading the teeny tiny print) for 2 years, and we did that unknowingly, the man told Gary it had been extended 2 years in August 2007, when we got the new DirecTV DVR so that we could see all those wonderful new HD channels. We had said on the phone that we did not agree to that, but Mr. Smooth Talker signed us up for it anyway. We told the DirecTV representative that, and he said "Oh it doesn't matter. They will hold you to it anyway. Nothing you can do. They will just take the money from your card on file."

So next Gary looked into arbitration. You have to pay DirectTV $145 to arbitrate your case if your problems with their service cannot be resolved informally. And after you pay them $145, their answer is final. You cannot take them to court for a trial by jury. Read this part of the contract: You and DIRECTV agree that any dispute arising under or relating to your agreements or service with DIRECTV, which cannot be resolved informally, will be resolved through binding arbitration as fully set forth in your DIRECTV Customer Agreement (a copy is sent with your first bill but may also be viewed at DIRECTV.com). Arbitration means you waive your right to a jury trial. Well why should they get to arbitrate it? Isn't that akin to allowing the fox to guard the henhouse? They have their butts covered coming and going.

When we called them again they were immediately rude and condescending to us. It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where a Doctor wrote down on Elaine's chart that she was "cranky", and then she couldn't get a new Doctor because they would request her medical charts and didn't want her as a patient. I want to call again and ask DirectTV "Did someone write down on my chart that I am cranky? BECAUSE I AM NOT CRANKY!!!" You know I'm not cranky, right? I've just been treatly very unfairly...

In researching this matter online, I have found that there are hundreds if not thousands of people upset with Direct TV. Two websites with tons of similar complaints to mine are http://www.my3cents.com/ and http://www.pissedconsumer.com/ . Hundreds of cases where DirectTV stole hundreds of dollars from unsatisfied consumers' bank accounts. One family lost everything, TV and all, in a house fire, and DirecTV held them to their contract when they needed every last cent to buy new clothes and food. Apparently the contract says that they can charge you $470 for each HD DVR (we have 2 now since I kept the Tivo unit) and $240 for cancelling their HD service prior to your commitment. That would be almost $1200 for early cancellation, even though I never agreed to 2 more years. They have both our debit card on file (for paying our monthly bill) and our charge card (which we used once for the Tivo). So we are stuck, no matter how terrible the service from DirectTV is, EVEN IF YOU CAN'T EVEN SEE A PICTURE ON YOUR TV, we are being held to a contract that WE DIDN'T AGREED TO until August 2009.

Oh, and a side note for Mr. Smooth Talker? I watched the DirecTV information channel like you suggested. A very smooth Rob Lowe look-alike was the announcer, and he told me, and I quote: "WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, SIMPLY PRESS THE RED BUTTON!"

Direct TV sucks.

PS If you haven't already, check out my song of the week. I chose it especially to go with this post!


Sharyn said...

Beautifully written. We dumped all broadcast TV 3 or 4 years ago. We were ONLY paying about 350 a year and that seemed outrageous for reruns, and shopping channels/sports which we wouldn't watch if someone nailed our eyeballs to the screen. You DO make me want a Tivo though...for a new best friend.
Good luck...

Bizarre Quilter said...

OMG!!! I was mesmerised! I had to read the whole article! THank goodness we don't have such things. I don't have pay tv and i don't care. I don't have HD tv either. I have so many quilts to make, who has time for that? I like to put on a talking book when machining and an old favourite dvd when hand-stitching because if i miss a bit? It doesn't matter!
BTW, change your debit card. :)

Lorraine in the land of OZ