Many people have had negative and frustrating experiences with cable and satellite TV, with overcharges, unauthorized services and holding forever on the phone trying to correct other people's mistakes.
We wouldn't mention these problems here, in a parenting column, except that they often have family consequences.
We are actually on hold with a satellite company as we write this column. We've been on hold, listening to the various annoying advertisements and promotions for nearly an hour, and who knows when someone will come back on the line?
Oh, well, at least we'll have time to finish this column, and hey, "We value you as a customer and will answer your call in the order it was received."
When we moved into a new place, we ordered the basic TV package for $47 a month. But before we knew it, we were getting billed for well more than $100 a month.
The bills are almost impossible to follow, but there was some exotic combination of premium channels and packages and bundles, so we sent in a payment with a note to please stop anything other than the basic package we had ordered.
But of course they don't see notes like that and the inflated bills continued to come. And our satellite service is facilitated by another communications company, so that bill does not even have a phone number for the satellite company. We called the communications company, and after a long hold, we were told we would have to call the satellite company directly.
We did, and after talking to several people who couldn't help us, and being transferred from one department to another and asking for a supervisor — a process that took well more than an hour and a half — we got someone who explained that the "basic package" we had ordered was a "premium offer" and that when it ran out, we had to pay the regular fees, which were more than double what had been quoted to us. And no, they could not give us a refund for the extra we had paid because we had failed to call them and let them know that we didn't want the package anymore after the premium offer was over.
OK, we said, then just cancel it now.
But it didn't get canceled, and we had discovered by then that some of the channels we were getting were "adult channels" that had highly objectionable content within easy reach of any child who was watching our TVs.
So we called again and were on hold again forever and it took three transfers, each with another hold, to get to someone who again assured us that while he couldn't refund any of the charges, he would remove the premium channels. Then he said that his computer was frozen but not to worry, he would remove them when his computer "came back up."
But he didn't. So we called again, had the same holding and transferring experience. We were beginning to realize that while we got the channels without ever asking for them, it was almost impossible to get them removed.
They said that they would really like us to set up an auto-pay account where money goes to them automatically each month without us seeing a bill to which we might object. We said no thanks, just correct the bill and get the extra channels removed.
For a couple of months, the channels were gone and the bill was back to normal.
But then in July, the bill jumped back up over $100 again. Hardly able to believe it, we went through the whole calling and holding and getting transferred experience for the third time and finally learned that a sports package had been added, which allowed us to watch every game.
We told them we didn't want it, hadn't ordered it and needed to know how it got on there.
The answer was something like, "Well, you had it before when it was free with your premium service, so we put it back on for this new season."
The problem with lots of billed services these days is that they are automated, impersonal and bureaucratic, and when you get billed for something you didn't order or at a price you didn't authorize, you only have two choices — call and get put on hold and hope you can eventually get it resolved, or send the corrected amount with a note that no one ever sees.
The problem with the second option is that your service may be disconnected for incomplete payment, with a steep reconnection fee, and the provider will report your "incorrect" payment to a credit bureau.
The bottom line is that customers get pushed around, overbilled, and then either ignored or bullied.
Got any ideas on what to do about it?
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who are in demand throughout the world as speakers on parenting and life balance. You can visit them anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.ValuesParenting.com.