Miami-Dade agency sues DIRECTV, alleging misleading ads and pricing

Miami-Dade agency sues DIRECTV, alleging misleading ads and pricingThe Miami-Dade Consumer Services Department is suing DIRECTV, saying it deceived customers about the cost of products and services.

The lawsuit accuses DIRECTV of running false ads that mislead consumers about the true costs of service packages and equipment, and also alleges the satellite TV provider failed to properly disclose terms of contracts.

Some 300 Miami-Dade residents complained to the consumer services department about DIRECTV since July 2006. Based on a review of the complaints, the department found DIRECTV advertisements neglected to state the complete price of their products and services and were "phrased in a way to unfairly induce consumers to purchase DIRECTV packages."

DIRECTV's misleading advertisements convinced customers they could pay as little as $34.99, $39.99 or $44.99 for various service bundles, when in fact, they were billed for $55.99, $60.99 and $65.99 for those packages.

DIRECTV also failed to clearly disclose conditions and limitations to service agreements by burying information about additional fees in fine print, the lawsuit says. Offers of "FREE Professional Installation in Up to 4 Rooms" and "FREE HD DVR Receiver Upgrade" failed to conspicuously disclose hidden costs such as a lease fee of $5 per month for a second and each additional receiver; a $19.95 fee for complex installation, handling and delivery; $6 per month for DVR Service; and $10 per month for HD Access.

In addition, consumers who thought they were signing a one-year contract based on ads that proclaimed "LOCK IN YOUR PRICE FOR ONE FULL YEAR," were actually locking themselves into two-year contracts, the lawsuit says.

Other DIRECTV ads claiming "130+ Channels in Hi-Def," which includes local channels and exclusive sports packages, were accompanied by the following fine print: "Eligibility for local channels based on service address. Programs not delivered in HD in all markets," and "Blackout restrictions and other conditions apply." These conditions, the suit says, don't make it clear that even consumers who opted for the most expensive package wouldn't receive all the channels all the time.

The company is also accused of extending contracts without permission, and of charging customers early termination fees that ran upwards of $480 if they upgraded their equipment but decided to cancel their contracts.

The department, which is suing DIRECTV for several violations of the Miami-Dade Uniform Trade Practices Law, is seeking an injunction to prevent these practices, refunds for affected customers and civil penalties.

DIRECTV did not respond to a request for a comment.
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