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Gary Borders: Disconnecting from pay-TV company requires backbone, stick-to-itiveness

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Our family finally decided to cut the cord, or in our case the satellite dish. The vote was unanimous. Since signing up for Netflix and Amazon Prime, we stream 95 percent of all the television we watch.

I had whittled down the offerings and monthly payment for the dish to its lowest level — $34.58, including tax. But we rarely watch it. I hate spending money for services not being used.

So I bit the bullet and called to cancel recently, knowing it would be an ordeal. Companies of all types structure their customer service systems to make it well-nigh impossible to cancel a monthly recurring charge. A lesser person would give up after the third time being put on hold and forced to listen to Billy Joe Cyrus sing “Achy Breaky Heart.”

But not me. I was going to outlast these people and quit paying $414.96 annually.

The first person I talked to, after verifying the account number, spent the next few minutes trying to talk me out of canceling by offering to knock $5 off the bill. I stonewalled him. He dispatched me into another musical interlude, saying I had to speak to a cancellation customer service rep. A woman who clearly has been trained to try all manner of persuasion to retain customers came on the line. First she doubled down on how much the bill could be reduced, to $10 a month. Still I said no. Then she offered to replace our old receivers with new ones, but of course that would involve an additional charge for the receivers.

I politely asked how paying more for the receivers was going to save me money. She allowed as how it wouldn’t, but we would get more channels and an even clearer picture. Since the television screens now seem nearly as large as a small-town movie theater’s, a clearer picture might actually be too realistic. I already get a bit twitchy being able to count the nose hairs on Jack Nicholson.

I again pointed out that we once received a couple hundred channels that we did not watch. We reduced the number to roughly 50 that go unloved and rejected. Adding more channels was counterproductive to my goal of saving money.

She persisted. I made the mistake of mentioning that we get our Internet service from AT&T, bundled with our cellphone service. She was on that like white on rice and immediately began pitching the dish’s Whiz Bang Highest Speed Ever Internet Service for just $49.95 a month. I sadly informed her I was an indentured servant to AT&T. I likely will not be able to get out of a contract with them until a few years after I have departed this vale of tears.

I half-expected the Defender of the Dish to offer to come to our house and cook dinner, wash the dogs and do laundry if I would not cancel. I stood firm. More delay ensued, as she clicked away with her mouse. Apparently the dish company requires her to fill out 327 different boxes on the computer screen, get approval from an executive vice president, and recite three Hail Marys before I can be disconnected.

Finally, she returned to read a script about how I had 21 days to return the receivers and pay the final bill. Actually, they owe me about $10. She concluded that the dish company would love to have me back as a customer anytime and would provide a stunning low-price offer to welcome my return. At long last, nearly an hour after the process started, the cord had been cut.

Now am I trying to get up the resolve to call AT&T, see if I can reduce the phone bill.

Gary Borders has been an East Texas journalist and editor for more than 40 years. He works now as a freelance writer, editor and photographer. You can see his work at garyborders.com. He has written for World Wildlife magazine, Texas Monthly, Texas Observer and Airstream Life.