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Washington AG sues DirecTV over contracts

McKenna calls binding pacts confusing, misleading

OLYMPIA – Customers of the nation’s largest satellite television service are being lured into long contracts they don’t understand with fees they don’t know they must pay, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna contends in a lawsuit filed Monday.

But a spokesman for the company, DirecTV, said the company is “disappointed” the suit was filed and predicted it won’t stand up in court.

In the suit filed Monday in King County Superior Court, McKenna accused DirecTV of violating the state’s consumer protection law by hiding details of “one-sided” subscription contracts in the small print of advertising, misusing the term “free” when describing some services and improperly keeping money from deposits required of some customers.

Customers don’t always understand they must lease the equipment for two years, while the special rates only apply for the first year, the lawsuit contends. Sales made over the phone don’t always disclose the terms of service or potential penalties.

“Even if consumers used a magnifying glass, they still wouldn’t discover that the ‘good deal’ they were promised came with potential expensive pitfalls,” McKenna said in a statement released with the lawsuit.

The state has received 746 complaints about DirecTV since 2006, including 375 this year, making it the business with the most complaints in 2009, he said.

Robert Mercer, director of public relations for DirecTV, said those numbers amount to less than 1 percent of the company’s customers in Washington.

“The vast majority of our customers in Washington, and the U.S. for that matter, understand our lease agreement and are happy with our overall service,” Mercer said in a prepared statement. “We believe their allegations lack merit, and we are confident the court will agree with us.”