I have this vague recollection from when I was a kid in the late 1960s of watching a football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets. During the last minute of the game when the Jets were ahead in the score, the network broke away from the game to begin the scheduled broadcast of the movie version of "Heidi." This was in the days before the internet or social media, so it took a while for those of us who had been watching to learn that Oakland scored two touchdowns in that last minute to win the game 43-32. Apparently the final score was announced during the movie, but I didn’t watch the movie.
Fans who were watching missed out on an exciting conclusion, but aside from collectively grousing, there was no real way to compensate for the lost viewing time.
I was reminded of the incident after receiving an email from a reader I’m calling Fiona, who had been watching some live proceedings of something or other on television recently and then had her cable service go out before the proceedings ended. The "Heidi" game was broadcast in pre-cable-television days when advertising rather than monthly fees paid for the broadcast. Now that cable and satellite-dish users pay for their service, Fiona wants to know if she’s right to believe her cable provider owes her a rebate for the time her service was down.
“I pay a lot for monthly service,” wrote Fiona. “Shouldn’t they reimburse me when they can’t provide that service?”
Fiona is not the first reader to raise such a question. Do I believe cable or satellite companies should prorate monthly fees if they can’t provide service? Yes.
Many service providers, however, include language on the agreements we sign off on that ask us to agree that they are not liable for such periodic service interruptions. That likely covers them legally from being expected to reimburse customers even if it doesn’t feel right to have to pay for something we don’t receive.
Some service providers do provide for reimbursement for outages but place specific parameters around what’s covered, when it can be reported and how old the outage can be before it’s no longer considered for reimbursement. Few if any make it as clear as it could be to users about what they should do in the event of an outage when it comes to seeking reimbursement.
The right thing for cable and satellite-dish companies is to make their policies clear and as simple as possible for users to use. But while users are waiting around for their providers to do this, the right thing for them to do after experiencing such outages is to contact the service provider to report the outage as soon as possible and to ask for reimbursement. Even if a company representative points to where its contract indicates no outage reimbursements are made, there are times when a service representative might have some leeway to keep a loyal customer relatively satisfied.
If access to television is limited by a power outage, that’s not the cable or satellite company’s fault, and they shouldn’t be expected to reimburse in such instances. But when it comes to its own services, if the company can’t provide the service, the right thing is not to charge for that time it can’t.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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