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The Eternal Satellite Bill

Sometimes companies need to learn when to let go.

When we inevitably step from this world to the next, we may hope to leave legacies for those we love. An obligation to pay for satellite television service is likely not among them.

Yet that's exactly what AARP member Jayne Sakoda and her family were saddled with following her uncle's death. His one passion was watching Los Angeles Lakers basketball, Sakoda wrote me from Cerritos, California. So in May Sakoda's husband ordered Dish Network for her uncle at his assisted-living facility, since he couldn't do it himself. Regrettably, he died less than two months later, yet Dish Network refused to cancel the contract in Sakoda's husband's name. The company wouldn't even let the Sakodas transfer the two-year subscription—worth almost $1,000—to another account.

While the policy is rarely detailed in customer agreements, companies selling services by subscription often cancel them without penalty in the event of a customer's death. Unless Dish Network believed the whole family lived in the care facility, it seemed that the customer-service department had a lapse of common sense. Going on that assumption, I contacted Dish Network. Four days' worth of e-mails and phone messages went unanswered until I tried Robin Zimmerman in corporate communications, whose name I found on a press release on Dish Network's website. (When customer service doesn't help, dig online for a different phone number.) She cleared things up in a day, apologizing to the Sakodas, canceling the charges, and disconnecting the service.

Was it a case of temporary insensitivity or a misbegotten policy? Despite the reversal, Dish Network never offered a clear explanation. If you are a satellite-TV customer, please let me know of any similar problems you experience with this company or its competitors.

Recovered by On Your Side: $978.90 in charges waived.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For (Ten Speed Press, 2006). You can read his journal on, where there's also a new On Your Side column every two weeks.

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