Call Kurtis Investigates: Satellite Companies Demand Equipment Back From CA Wildfire Victims

JACKSON (CBS13) – The dream home Gayle Mendoza and her husband planned to live out their years is now gone. Tucked on a hillside overlooking the Mokelumne River, the Butte fire ravaged the home they had built.

“Nothing survived,” she said looking at the debris.

Her house is just one of the 475 destroyed in the September wildfire that blackened 71-thousand acres in Amador and Calaveras Counties and left two people dead.

Her charred DISH Network satellite dish now sits on the side of her leveled home. When she called DISH to let them know what happened, she says they insisted she return her equipment, even after telling them it was destroyed. She says they even sent her a box and told her if she didn’t return the equipment, she’d be charged.

“I couldn’t believe it. They have no heart,” she said. “They even want the remotes back. It’s unbelievable.”

We looked through the charred debris in what was once her living room looking for her DISH DVR, but all we could find was a melted TV stand.

She says her satellite internet company, HughesNet treated her the same way also demanding their equipment back or she’d have to pay for it.

“These people that are asking for this equipment back, should experience what these people are going through. I think they’d be a little more sensitive,” said Doug Elmets of Elmets Communications.

The veteran public relations executive thinks this is a horrible way to treat customers who lost everything.

“They should be sending them an apology letter for even asking for their equipment back,” he said.  “The bad PR that they’re going to get from this story is going to pale in comparison to the cost of the burnt equipment that they are asking these people to return.”

We reached out to DISH which claimed, “DISH is responding to serve customers affected by the California wildfires…In this situation, the agent assisting this customer regrettably did not follow standard procedure…DISH has implemented its standard procedures to assist in the wake of natural disasters.” After we got involved, Gayle says she got an apology and they agreed not to charge her for her burned up equipment.

We also reached out to HughesNet which apologized saying, “Our customer service representatives have reached out to the customer by phone and email to advise that her account is closed without any termination charges and all equipment fees have been waived.”

Gayle now lives in a Best Western in Jackson, until her insurance company finds her a place to live. She plans to rebuild her dream house.  She says when that happens DISH will not be her satellite company.

“In a crisis you have to have a heart,” she said.

DISH STATEMENT:

“DISH is responding to serve customers affected by the California wildfires. DISH has implemented its standard procedures to assist in the wake of natural disasters.  In this situation, the agent assisting this customer regrettably did not follow standard procedure. While all of DISH’s customer care representatives receive thorough training and have the tools necessary to promptly resolve most customer matters, we are constantly looking for ways to improve our processes.

Customers can receive special waivers and pause DISH service. When ready, customers in the affected areas can call DISH Customer Service to receive the following:

Pause DISH service and account

Waived equipment fees for lost or damaged equipment

Waived installation fees when a customer is ready to resume service

Customers are welcome to call DISH Customer Service at 800-333-DISH when they are ready to review their account. We understand that other needs take priority over addressing their pay-TV service and we are prepared to assist when customers are ready.”

DIRECTV/AT&T:

Our thoughts, first and foremost, are with our customers whose homes have been lost or damaged in the fires. We have a long-standing policy of assisting our customers following natural disasters and we will work to assist them throughout their recovery process. For example, we will credit customers for time without service for the duration of the disaster that affects their ability to view programming or use our DIRECTV service. We will disconnect receivers with the natural disaster code that will prevent non-return charges for destroyed equipment. We will waive the Early Cancellation Fee, if suspending the account is not the best option.

COMCAST:

Comcast would not seek to recover equipment or fines from customers affected by natural disasters.

HUGHESNET:

Our customer service representatives have reached out to the customer by phone and email to advise that her account is closed without any termination charges and all equipment fees have been waived.  Hughes apologies for any miscommunication. Obviously, these are extraordinary and unusual circumstances and we are committed to working with this customer, and other customers, who impacted to resolve their concerns. Let me know if you have any other questions.

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