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Dish Network Temporarily Halts Service In Puerto Rico, Unless Customers Say They Want It

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We’ve written too many stories over the years about pay-TV and telecom companies still insisting that customers keep paying for service in the wake of natural disasters that destroyed their properties. So it’s nice to hear that the nation’s two major satellite TV companies are being proactive about the millions of Americans in Puerto Rico who are trying to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Maria. However, Dish and DirecTV have decided to take two very different approaches toward not piling on on Puerto Rico.

AT&T announced last week that it is providing one month of bill credits to its wireless and DirecTV customers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Service — if you can still get it, given the condition of your home, TV, electricity, and satellite dish — remains uninterrupted.

It’s not clear how AT&T will handle DirecTV customers who will be without access to their homes (and therefore their TV service) for more than the one month covered by the bill credit. However, DirecTV does allow customers to put their service on hold for up to six months if the balance of their bill is zero, so that appears to be one way that affected subscribers in Puerto Rico and the USVI could put things on hold while they focus on rebuilding.

While DirecTV is going the bill-credit route, Dish said yesterday it was temporarily halting all TV service to Puerto Rico and the USVI.

That means that even those Dish customers whose homes survived the storm without too much damage won’t be able to access their satellite service without taking the extra step of actually contacting Dish and letting them no they want their TV feed back.

On the one hand, the Dish approach does make it easier for those whose properties were ravaged and won’t be back to normal any time soon. The last thing you want to think about when your house has been flattened by winds and flooding is whether or not you shut off your pay-TV service. Whereas the DirecTV bill credit only lasts for one month and won’t be applied for two to three billing cycles, meaning the customer may still be continuing to pay despite not being able to watch TV.

At the same time, this preemptive pausing of Dish service does arguably put a burden on those customers who aren’t in a position to lounge about and catch up on the adventures of Young Sheldon but who could really use occasional access to news, particularly since there are still problems with data connections in islands hit by Maria. These folks must go through the hassle of calling or emailing Dish to have their service restored.

We’ve asked Dish to comment on why it chose to shut down TV service instead of going the bill-credit route, but thus far the company has only restated what it said in yesterday’s press release. If we get a more substantive response, we will update this story.

At the end of September, a contractual dispute with Lilly Broadcasting took three Lilly-owned stations — CBS Puerto Rico; WENY, the ABC affiliate in the USVI; and One Caribbean Television — off Dish feeds in the region. One Caribbean was subsequently restored, reports FierceCable, but only on an emergency basis. It’s unclear what, if any, impact this blackout has had on Dish’s decision to pause satellite TV service in the area.

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