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Television Service

Whether you tune in for a single show or a full list of channels, it’s important to know your rights with cable, satellite and local television service providers.

What kind of service is available?

Your television service options depend in part on where you live, and in part on the TV and other services you use. You can often find out what services are available in your area by checking with your local government office or local library. Here are some key points to consider if you seek broadcast, cable, or satellite service in your area:

How do I know if I’m getting a good deal?

While you identify the type of television service you want, it is just as important to evaluate the cost. Here are some tips to protect yourself from deceptive or misleading offers:

  1. Know your provider. Take time to research the companies that offer service in your area. Both cable and satellite providers may use a third-party seller of service. You may check the Better Business Bureau for a company’s reputation.
  2. Ask if an independent retailer or “third-party” seller is involved. Many providers allow a third party to sell contracts for service. A third-party seller could be door-to-door salesman, an independent retail store, or another kind of company, such as a telephone or utility service provider. This sales link can complicate your service contract if the deal goes bad. For instance, a third-party seller may offer a price that is not honored by the provider. Or your contract may be with a seller who is not accountable to the provider in a dispute. To avoid this difficulty, find out who is responsible for the offers made and make sure it’s written in your contract.
  3. Get the service plan in writing. Before you sign up for service, ask for a written copy of the contract and a breakdown of the price. There may be a verbal but not a written contract with a provider, or the television service may be set up by a third-party seller. Be cautious if the provider does not give a written explanation of the plan. Take time to document and keep record of the offers made.
  4. Break down the bundle. Package deals are common between television service providers and phone and Internet companies. Consumers may get a single bill from their phone provider for a bundle plan that includes television. It may appear the agreement is only with the phone company. However, often the television service has additional contract terms and conditions that you need to know. For instance, a satellite provider may offer a price with a rebate, but the bundle plan may not mention how to get the rebate offered by the satellite provider. Take time to learn what a bundled service plan really requires so that you get the service and price you want.
  5. Read your monthly bill. To ensure that you are paying for only the services contracted, understand how you are billed. Review your monthly bills for consistency with previous bills. If you have concerns, you should contact your service provider immediately.
  6. Avoid termination fees. Many television service plans include a “term commitment,” which requires you to keep the service for a set period of time. Ask up front about the length of the contract and early cancellation fees to avoid a large bill from the company when you end service. To collect a termination fee, some companies may try to automatically charge the credit card on file when you end service. If you are charged a termination fee on your credit card without your knowledge or authorization, you should promptly dispute the matter directly with your bank or card issuer as well as with the provider.

What if I have a problem with my television service?

If you have a problem or concern with your television service, act quickly to resolve your issue. Keep records of your efforts, including the time of your calls, the name of your customer service representative, and the action that was taken. If you are unable to resolve your concerns directly with the company, you should consider the following options:

  1. Your local franchising authority. If you have an issue with your cable provider, you may contact your city or local municipality. You should be able to find the contact information for your local municipality on your cable billing statement. It is important that citizens with concerns about their cable television service rates, quality, billing practices, or customer service report their concerns to the local municipality.
  2. The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). Both agencies have some authority to regulate certain aspects of the cable and satellite television business:

    Federal Communications Commission
    Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
    Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
    445 12th Street, SW
    Washington, D.C. 20554
    1-888-225-5322
    www.fcc.gov

    Federal Trade Commission
    Bureau of Competition

    600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
    Washington, D.C. 20580
    Toll free: 202-236-2882
    E-Mail: antitrust@ftc.gov
    Web Site: www.ftc.gov  (External Link)
  3. The Better Business Bureau. The BBB may have complaint information about a television service provider:

    Better Business Bureau
    220 South River Ridge Circle
    Burnsville, MN 55337
    (651) 699-1111 or (800) 646-6222
    www.bbb.org
  4. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. If you would like to file a complaint about your television service or you would like more information about this topic, please contact:

    Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
    1400 Bremer Tower
    445 Minnesota Street
    St. Paul, MN 55101
    (651) 296-3353
    1-800-657-3787
    TTY: (651) 297-7206
    TTY: 1-800-366-4812

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