The US government is going after cable company trickery, suing DirecTV for deceptive ads

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Image: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
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The US Federal Trade Commission has formally charged DirecTV, the satellite television provider with over 20 million subscribers, with deceiving its customers.

In a complaint (pdf) filed to the US District Court for the Northern District of California, the FTC accused DirecTV of, “making deceptive claims or omissions of material facts in advertisements and on its website for its satellite television subscription service.”

Take, for instance, this ad:

DirecTV screenshot

The FTC argues that this 12-month package does not clearly disclose that its customers must sign a two-year contract in order to obtain the discount, and that there are costly cancellation fees. The ad also fails to clearly disclose that the package increases in price in its second year, and that customers will be charged for the premium channels after the free three months expire, unless they contact DirecTV to cancel.

“It’s a bedrock principle that the key terms of an offer to a consumer must be clear and conspicuous, not hidden in fine print,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a press release. The FTC is seeking a court order that would prohibit DirecTV from running these ads and force the company to pay back money to affected customers.

To be sure, DirecTV is far from the only TV provider to engage in questionable behavior. For instance, last year, Time Warner Cable tried to make a price hike sound like a discount, and AT&T markets a cheap cable package without clearly explaining that the price reverts to a standard rate after a year (though that detail is included if you click through the advertisement). Neither company is the subject of the FTC’s new complaint.

Quartz has reached out to DirecTV for comment and will update this story with any response.