Can AT&T extend your contract agreement without a signature?

Every so often, a story circulates around the internet of someone who tried to cancel satellite TV and told they were still under a 2-year commitment. Often times the stories involve an older person, or a person who has lost their house. There’s a human interest angle there, of course. The media want to portray AT&T and DISH as evil corporations who force hapless older folks into unbreakable contracts. Of course that’s not true.

Here’s the deal.

Pretty much any change you make to your satellite TV system will incur a new 2-year agreement. Adding or deleting a channel will generally not, but changing programming packages generally will.

Adding any equipment to your system will generally start a new two-year term as well. You should be well advised of this when you talk to an AT&T or Solid Signal Representative.

If you cancel service within that two years you may be subject to an early termination fee. That fee is prorated; for DIRECTV service it’s $20 for each month you have left on that two-year agreement. So, it’s never going to be more than $240.

How can they do this without a signature?

Your customer agreement, whether you are with DIRECTV or DISH, says that your relationship with that company is ongoing. You’re not starting a new contract, just a new commitment. Commitments can be verbal and don’t require a signature to be enforceable, as long as you agreed to that when you signed your initial contract. It’s part of the onboarding paperwork you got when you first signed up.

All sorts of contracts and agreements are started orally. The law doesn’t say you need a signature for most things, but companies require a physical record so the two parties can’t argue later. It’s a smart move in most cases.

However, if you had to execute a fully signed document just to add a pay-per-view event, you’d probably hate that. No one would do it, and an important revenue stream would go away.

How can you know if you are under a 2-year commitment?

If you know for sure that you’ve added equipment or programming within the last two years, yes you are under commitment. In case you aren’t sure, the best way is to call AT&T or DISH directly on the number on your bill. If you originally signed up for satellite TV through Solid Signal, you can also call us at 877-312-4547.

What can be done if you think you’re unfairly under a commitment?

In general you will have to go through binding arbitration. There are cases where an early termination fee is waived but they are rare. They’re also granted on a case-by-case basis and it will take some time if you want to go that route. If you do choose to go through the arbitration route realistically you’re going to probably pay more in counsel and time off work than you would pay with an early termination fee.

I understand how this can seem unfair…

but really it isn’t. The equipment you get is subsidized over at least two years and this just helps make sure that AT&T and DISH can keep offering high-quality equipment to you at a lower price. If you wanted to go contract-free, you’d end up with something like what’s happened with cell phones. Remember when the most expensive phone you could get was $250 or so? Well those days are gone. People didn’t want contracts or commitments and the result is we have $1500 iPhones now. No one wants that to happen to satellite equipment.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.