DIRECTV satellite company to reimburse Md. customers About 9,000 who prepaid will get compensation for change in service

January 24, 1998|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

The DIRECTV satellite television company will reimburse nearly 9,000 Maryland customers as part of a national settlement after the company accepted prepayment for a year of service, then withdrew some programs last year.

The agreement settled an investigation of DIRECTV involving attorneys general in 31 states, including Maryland.

More than 8,800 Maryland customers who signed up for a $200 cash-back promotion paid in advance for one year of service. In April last year, the company replaced Encore movie channels in its lineup and said that anyone wishing to keep the channels would be billed an additional $4 a month.

Jeff Torkelson, vice president of communications for DIRECTV, said yesterday that the company made the change believing customers preferred the new lineup.

"Subscribers had told us in research that it was what they wanted, but we had a lot of complaints after we made the change," Torkelson said.

Attorneys general also received complaints and began investigating. Ultimately, said Torkelson, investigators determined that the company had failed to clearly spell out the recourse for consumers whose programs were changed.

"Consumers should not be lured into making long-term commitments by advertising that promises one package of services, only to have the service change after paying to receive those services," Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said in a statement. "I am glad we were able to obtain relief for these consumers."

All customers who signed up through the promotion will be mailed information about receiving a refund. Under the settlement, they are entitled to receive Encore programs free until their subscriptions expire or get credits or refunds for the extra fees they paid.

"In the end, we're very happy with the way this turned out," Torkelson said. "We've learned a few things about how to communicate the terms of promotions, and the attorneys general have given us a few tips on how to avoid customer confusion."

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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