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Money for Nothing?

A reader faces a big fee for a TV service that didn't work

Burley: Direct Tv

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Why should you have to pay for a TV service that never worked?

After signing up for service with DirecTV, Marina Williams of Dewey, Arizona, was disappointed when the company's satellite TV reception kept stuttering.

DirecTV's technicians tried to fix the reception, with no success. After four months, Williams canceled.

Frustration turned to disbelief when DirecTV sent her a final bill, including a termination fee, for $422.29. Williams didn't think it was fair that she should be penalized for ending a service that never worked right. She challenged the amount, but DirecTV threatened to turn her account over to a collection agency.

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The satellite provider asks customers to sign what attorneys call an adhesion contract, meaning you have no power to negotiate or modify the terms. And while the consumer is locked into a two-year commitment, the contract makes no warranty about service.

After reviewing the situation, I agreed with Williams. I thought she acted in good faith and shouldn't have to pay the fee.

Three hours after hitting "Send" on a carefully crafted presentation of Williams' case, I heard from Meghan McLarty, a DirecTV senior public relations associate. "I'll look into this right away," she wrote. Two hours later, she emailed to say her company would waive the fee "as a courtesy to Ms. Williams."

We are grateful that DirecTV released its grip on Williams' finances, but its service agreement continues to hold millions of customers in a financial vise.

Consumer advocate Ron Burley writes the On Your Side column for AARP and is the author of  Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For. Got a complaint? Tell your consumer woes to Ron at AARP On Your Side.

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