TV set-top box replaced for free


DEAR SUN SPOTS: I have two boxes provided by Dish that are supposed to supply programming to two TVs. They both stopped working for the second TV.

Do you have a local repairman in your files who does that work? I do not want to go through Dish if I can avoid it. I paid an installation fee, which may or may not have included the boxes that were supplied by the installer. It was about six or seven years ago.

I had to replace one box a few years ago and argued with them to get it replaced free of cost using the Maine consumer protection law.

Dish had a dispute with Turner Broadcasting, which supplies CNN and other stations I watch, and I have considered changing to cable or DirecTV, which would mean new boxes, but both are quite a bit more money unless you buy into one of their special offers, which require a two-year commitment. After the one-year reduced-price offer, God only knows what the price would be.

It is very hard to determine the actual cost because they have so many add-ons to the offered price and most of it is in microscopic print. You have to do a lot of research and be pretty sharp to get the best price and watch out for mysterious charges. If you have any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear.

The consumer advocate used to put out a newsletter several months ago that was very helpful in getting the best price on telephone and such, but it has been discontinued.

I would like to have someone come and look at the boxes and tell me if they are defective or just need to be reprogrammed. I did call a Dish technician, but they wanted to send out their repairman. I find independent repairmen are more reliable and less expensive, but I don’t find any listed in the yellow pages. — Marilyn via email

ANSWER: There is a lot to respond to in this question. First, repairmen: Sun Spots has a couple of local companies:

* Videotronics in Lewiston in the Marden’s mall (782-0242) sells and services satellite equipment for Dish.

* Lynn-Hom Electronics in Farmington (778-5546) does repair service, antennas, and DirectTV sales and installations.

Sun Spots also found this helpful checklist for those who want to try and troubleshoot problems before they call for help:

Next, it is not true that you must sign a contract if you select Time Warner Cable or DirecTV. Cable is the most flexible.

Sun Spots emailed with Nathalie Burgos, spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable, who noted that not only is no contract required for service, but that “we will always exchange a defective box for customers at no charge (provided they are not upgrading equipment in any way), and we encourage customers to let us know if they are having issues with equipment.”

DirecTV has an option for month-to-month service as well. Their media representative, who surprisingly asked to be anonymous, said that a “customer can purchase new equipment at full price (the price varies on the type of equipment being ordered) plus a $50 activation fee without a contract by going through DirecTV or

“No agreement is tied to the purchase option, but the customer also does not receive any of the discounts or new customer offers. This is an owned option and is a month-to-month service.

“Currently there are no options to purchase new or owned receivers at a third-party retailer (examples: Best Buy, eBay, DirecTV co-branded authorized dealers).”

She said that most people go with the leased option. “Based on their credit score they may not have to pay an upfront fee to get the equipment. The leased option is tied to a 24-month agreement and includes new customer promotions and discounts.”

She said that “the replacement of a leased receiver is done at a cost of $19.95 for delivery and handling.  If a customer subscribes to the protection plan, the delivery and handling is waived.

“The Genie receiver and Mini Genie receivers are not part of the purchase option. They are all leased with a 24-month agreement.”

At Dish, Emily Odonnell said that “prospective Dish customers have the option to purchase services month to month. Once a subscriber’s contract period ends, service automatically becomes month to month.”

As for the equipment: “Most Dish customers choose to lease their set-top boxes. An option to purchase is also available. If a customer experiences any issue with their equipment, Dish will troubleshoot and, if necessary, replace leased set-top boxes free of charge.

“Customers enrolled in the Dish protection plan benefit from full coverage of replacement and shipping costs. A convenient shipping label is provided by Dish for a small fee to customers not enrolled in this plan.”

Sun Spots did not even attempt to get into pricing, because as Marilyn correctly noted, they change frequently. Because cable and satellite TV are not regulated, it would be difficult for the Maine Office of the Public Advocate to keep up with their prices online, let alone in a newsletter.

However, the Public Advocate does provide information on regulated utilities at This is where Sun Spots got some of the information for her recent column on electricity rates.

As for Marilyn, Emily sent Dish’s “executive customer service team” to Marilyn’s house on a Saturday, no less, and all is well.

Finally, Sun Spots notes that viewers are bound to see more disagreements, such as the one with Turner Broadcasting that irked Marilyn. With hundreds of viewing options and fewer people watching “regular” TV, choosing instead to stream online, the financial pressure is on.

Viewers should expect such disruptions periodically and eventually much bigger changes in how they watch TV. One can only hope it will be less expensive than it is now.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to [email protected]