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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dish Network and Snake Oil

In the old days, shady characters would set up a wagon and tell wild stories about a miracle cure-all made from snake oil and molasses. They have evolved into phone sales and instead of miracle drugs they peddle satellite receivers and television signals.

My dealings started with a few phone calls from a guy who called a few times offering Dish Network, and I shut him down each time. He was persistent, though, and knew my name and address and said he represented Dish Network, which I figured was a reputable company. I got to know the guy's voice and that his name was Toby, and that he was from the Philippines. The deal sounded pretty good, and eventually, I gave in. That was a mistake I will never make again.

The offer was this, and it's pretty simple: Dish Network would provide a high definition Digital Video Recorder, a receiver for another room, installed free, for $39 a month. That included HD programming, the HD DVR, and the installation.

What happened over the next few weeks was enough to cause rickets and make me wish a real snake oil salesman would stop by the house and sell me a cure for Dish.

The first company that Toby worked for turned out not to be Dish at all but a company supposedly based out of California called Digital Videovision. Through a company called RS&I, Inc., an installation was scheduled. Now RS&I doesn't actually do installations themselves, but they farm it out to local contractors, and in this case the call went to Dish It Out, who did the installation.

Dish It Out came by the house and started the installation, and it turned out the installer did not bring a ladder with him big enough to mount the dish on the second story of my house. He was about to quit, but called his boss who told him to rent a ladder. I found a place nearby that rented ladders, and since the installer didn't have a truck big enough to carry the ladder took him to get one.

Halfway through the installation the installer realized they had brought not an HD DVR, but instead, a DVR and an HD receiver. I'm a TiVo guy, and couldn't imagine watching HD or any TV without the DVR capability, plus I had been promised an HD DVR and a receiver. So we called Digital Videovision who said that they had never authorized an HD DVR and that would cost more money -- $200! I argued, and the person on the phone named Dave said they would review the tapes but there was no such offer for a free HD DVR. I encouraged him to do so, figuring they would see their mistake eventually. Dave finally relented and said they would send me the HD DVR for $100. Not what I had been told, and I felt they had pulled a bait and switch on me but I went ahead with the installation and the promise they would fix it as soon as they could.

The installer didn't have all the tools he would need to peg the cable to the house, so he shoved the cable under the weep screed and pushed it against the house with bark chips. This was not cool, so I called Dish It Out and they said they would fix it.

About a week later, Dish It Out showed up again. They were going to show up in the afternoon, but didn't make it until 6:30, right when our home group from church was supposed to start. This time they brought the right ladder and an installer with some know how. His boss also showed up, who was a nice enough guy, along with another person who was in town from phoenix who knew the installation business. They fixed the installation, put in the HD DVR and told me that for $100 I had a good deal. This took about two hours, and home group that night was a wash, since I had to work with them.

The next day the new HD DVR had a message on it that a phone line had to be plugged into the back of it or it wouldn't run. I stretched a cable across the room and plugged it in to get some basic functionality back, then called Dish. They said they could operate the HD DVR without the phone line for an additional five bucks a month, but I could use a wireless phone jack to get a phone line to the back of the device if I didn't want to pay for one. Radio Shack and Circuit City both sell these items for over $80 apiece, and I told the Dish customer service lady that I wasn't interested in that. She said that Dish sells them for $50, and she would split the cost with me. $25 bucks sounded better, so I said go ahead and send me one. She then said that they wouldn't be able to credit the $25 to my account this month, but if I called back next month they would do it. For some reason, I said go ahead, and they mailed it out. She also said there was a thirty day money back guarantee.

A couple of days later, I installed the wireless phone jack they sent. The interesting thing about this technology is that it works over your electrical system in the house, and it must not be a perfected technology, because every time the phone would ring, a lamp in the front of the house would magically turn on. Annoying, to be sure.

With the new phone line installed there was an option on one of the Dish channels to view your current statement, and see how much money you owed dish for that month's service. The bill was over $120. This was no bargain, and to add insult to injury, the DVR interface was not only cryptic but poorly designed, and compared to TiVo, a pile of hot garbage. I called Dish again to find out what the story was with the bill and they listed out the stacks of hidden charges.

There was the charge for the programming, which was more than they had originally quoted, because the rebate system they had didn't take effect until you printed out and mailed them a form that would deduct $20 a month for ten months. That would kick in eight weeks after they received the paperwork.

  • There was a per receiver charge of about $5 bucks a month for each receiver in the house. We had two, so that meant about $10 per month.
  • There was a per DVR charge of $5.98. Since I ended up with two DVRs, that was another $12 a month.
  • There was a $49 activation fee, which was supposed to be refunded at the first bill. This was from Digital Videovision.

Before I began this mess, we had Charter digital cable, which is really no bargain, but at least worked well with TiVo and was familiar. We didn't have to order a complicated tier to get some basic channels, and to put it succinctly, we liked it better. I had kept my cable and was planning to cancel it but as Dish kept getting more expensive with crummy customer service and poor technology, we decided to cancel the whole shebang. Thirty day money back guarantee was the promise they had made.

I was heavily leaning toward cancellation of Dish, when the phone rang one day and my wife picked it up. I heard her say, "Is this Toby?" She handed me the phone and I talked to Toby again, the person in the Philippines who originally talked me into this nightmare. I told him he had hosed me with this promise of an HD DVR for free and he said that he was sure that was the deal, and that he was sorry but that's what his script said. He thought for sure he was offering a legitimate deal and that the script was right. I told him it wasn't, of course, and then the conversation took an interesting twist. He had been told that I had cancelled the deal, and that he had subsequently switched teams. He was working for the same company, but now he was selling DirecTV, and wanted to know if I was interested in it. I couldn't believe it. I said, "Toby, after all I've been through, do you think I can trust you to sell me DirecTV?" The question was rhetorical, but he laughed and said probably not. That might have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but there were so many things that had gone wrong I couldn't see staying with a company (or four, to be exact) that would be this messed up.

When I called Dish to cancel they told me they would send me some labels and boxes to ship the equipment back to them, which I was glad to do. Two DVRs and three remotes (one of them came with two) is what they expected, plus a device on the dish itself that "looks like a pair of binoculars." That was fine with me, I couldn't do anything with this equipment anyway. I hung up and hoped this would be out of my hair soon.

Yesterday was two weeks later, and I got an envelope in the mail from Digital Videovision with two UPS labels and a note that said if I didn't send the DVRs to them they would charge me something like $579. That's fine, I plan on sending them their junk. Then the thing that prompted this was a phone call I got tonight.

A collection agency called FedChex was on the phone and said they were calling on behalf of Digital Videovision, who said I owed them a payment of "nine ten." When I asked the guy why owed Digital Videovision ten bucks, he corrected me. He said I owed them nine hundred and ten dollars for canceling Dish!

What a frustrating experience. If this ends up on my credit report I hope that they all get fleas and hemorrhoids. Then maybe they'll have use for a snake oil salesman who can sell them an elixir that would cure them for nominal fee.

Meanwhile, I've been scammed.


Blogger Matt Smith said...


The collection agency wanted $919 because they didn't get the equipment yet. After they do, I'll only owe Digital Videovision $350. I don't see any way out of this bill, so I'm bound to pay it. Hopefully, this will end any connection with Dish.

One of the people I dealt with yesterday asked, like I was nuts, why I wanted to cancel after all of this. Let me give some more reasons:

1) This horrible process.
2) The HD content wasn't as great as it was billed to be. There are over 10 HD channels, but unless you like watching reruns of the same five concerts, Knight Rider, monster or kung fu movies, it's lame. And more than half of ESPNs HD content is in regular 4:3 aspect ratio.
3) The hidden costs.
4) I Googled Digial Videovision and the other content they provide for your entertainment involves naked women. Ugh.

1:48 PM, August 31, 2006  
Blogger Gibbytron said...


2:37 AM, September 02, 2006  

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