Wednesday, June 20, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Former XM Satellite Radio customers say the D.C. company has made it difficult to cancel their radio subscriptions.

XM estimates that about 5,000 subscribers canceled their subscriptions in protest of the satellite radio provider’s decision to suspend the shock jocks of “The Opie & Anthony Show” after the duo aired a segment last month in which a guest talked about raping Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, first lady Laura Bush and Queen Elizabeth II. The show returned to XM airwaves Friday after a 30-day suspension.

Opie and Anthony fans, angered by what they describe as censorship, have saturated Internet message boards with accounts of their difficulties in canceling XM, with some going so far as to record their calls with customer service representatives and post the videos on the Web site YouTube. Others have filed formal complaints with their state attorneys general to ensure their subscriptions were canceled.

Nearly a dozen of those interviewed said they encountered hang-ups, arguments from XM representatives and unsolicited promotions when they tried to cancel their service.

Former subscriber Bill Platt placed his first call May 15, the day XM announced its suspension of the shock jocks, and was told that his radio subscriptions were canceled. The next day, he called to verify the cancellations and was told they were set to cancel May 27.

“I asked them, ‘Can you please make this effective immediately?’ ” he said. “They agreed.”

Mr. Platt, a Woodbury, N.J., resident, is one of several former subscribers who posted recordings of his calls on YouTube.

On May 17, he was told that the radios were still active and was eventually disconnected. The next day, a representative told him that his subscriptions were not canceled, but rather suspended.

He asked: “Are they, like, canceled — deactivated immediately — or are they suspended?”

“It’s just only suspended,” a representative responded after a pause. The representative then asked Mr. Platt whether he wished to suspend his account for a month, to which he replied, no. Then, the representative said the records revealed that it was canceled after all.

Mr. Platt’s nine-minute call has been viewed more than 38,000 times on YouTube. Videos posted by other users, such as “How to properly cancel XM after they canned Opie and Anthony,” or “I cancel my XM account” chronicle similar hardships.

Other customers who tried to cancel their service in response to the company’s handling of the shock jocks describe experiences similar to Mr. Platt’s.

“It took more than two weeks, five phone calls, numerous e-mails … and ultimately a formal complaint to our state attorney general to have our subscriptions canceled as requested,” said Susan Santory, a Redding, Conn., resident who shared five XM radio subscriptions with her fiance.

A subscriber since October 2004, Ms. Santory wanted to stop the service after the company announced its suspension of Opie and Anthony. After four phone calls to XM customer service, she said their radios were still working.

“We called XM yet again and were told we were given a free subscription period — even though we had specifically refused this,” said Ms. Santory, whose three e-mails to company executives yielded no response.

“This consumer’s experience is troubling because he or she was unable to do it himself and our intervention was necessary,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. “So we are hopeful that the company will be responsive.”

In the Washington area, only the D.C. attorney general has received a complaint about canceling XM service in the past month.

Edward Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the D.C. Better Business Bureau, said the company has an “unsatisfactory” rating. The bureau has received 784 complaints from local residents in the past three years regarding billing, customer service and refund matters.

Christopher Priest of Blackwood, N.J., said he was disconnected when he said he was calling to cancel his XM subscription.

“The third call, the woman said the department of cancellations was closed for the night,” he said. “I asked if I could subscribe and she said yes, that department was indeed open.”

Mr. Priest said he was offered free service during his fourth call but turned it down. Two weeks later, he said he was put on a free trial with 20 stations. A month later, he said his service has stopped.

Many of those who say they had trouble canceling accuse XM — which had a shareholder meeting May 25 — of purposefully continuing their service to inflate subscriber numbers.

XM spokesman Chance Patterson rejected such insinuations, as well as the accounts of cancellation difficulties.

“There have been some groups and one in particular that have tried to create a cause organization around this situation,” he said in reference to the newly formed People Against Censorship, created in response to the Opie and Anthony suspension. “They have continued to misrepresent the whole situation.”

Mr. Patterson said XM has “processed any activations or deactivations in the normal course, just as we always do.”

He noted that XM radios must be turned on to be activated or deactivated and suggested that subscribers whose radios continued to work may not have followed deactivation instructions properly. The process involves the company’s satellites sending a signal to the individual radio, he said, and takes a matter of minutes.

“If somebody wants to cancel, they can cancel,” he said. “I don’t know of any incident [in which a person has had a problem canceling their service]. That doesn’t make sense.”

Moreover, Mr. Patterson said, a person could cancel their subscription through the Web site.

“We average a million activations every quarter. And then we have thousands of deactivations every quarter. All these people are treated the same,” he said.

The company, which has about 7.9 million subscribers, has reached out to Opie and Anthony fans who canceled their service, waiving the traditional $14.99 reactivation fee before June 30.

XM is seeking regulatory approval to merge with New York-based Sirius Satellite Radio.

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