Dish Network, like most companies with large subscriber bases, writes its service agreements to overwhelmingly favor its own interests. The language in these contracts severely limits your legal rights and remedies, and the best way to avoid an early termination fee is to never sign a long-term agreement. However, if you end up in that situation, your best option is to politely negotiate with a customer service representative for a compromise. You'll probably still have to pay, but maybe not as much.
Early Termination Fees Explained
Dish Network lures customers into signing long-term service agreements by offering discounts. These discounts profit the company over the long haul, but not at first. So, if you have a long-term agreement and cancel early, you're hurting Dish Network right in the business model. That's why the company is so adamant about late fees. As of 2014, Dish Network charges an early termination fee of $20 per month for each month remaining on your service plan, up to a maximum of $480. To the best of its legal ability, the company allows no exceptions.
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Seriously, No Exceptions
The early termination fee applies if you move to a new location that doesn't receive Dish Network service. It applies if Dish Network changes the amount it bills you and you cancel your contract in response. The fee also applies if you reduce your service package below the company's required minimum, or if you fall behind in your bills and can't pay. When the fee does trigger, Dish Network will try and charge your card automatically. If that somehow fails, you'll be on the hook for any resulting collection and attorney fees.
Calling and Asking Nicely
In most situations, your first resort should be to call the company's customer service center, politely explain your situation to the representative and ask for suggestions. From Dish's point of view, early termination fees exist to protect the company from fickle new customers, and the legal language in the service agreement contract leaves you virtually no way to force the company to waive the fee. When you call the customer service center, accept from the outset you're not going to get off scot-free. Focus on working politely with the representative. Customer service representatives have limited authority, but can make some concessions. If the representative offers you a compromise, you should probably accept it.
If you're canceling because you're moving, offer to transfer your service agreement to the person who moves in after you. You need Dish Network's consent for this, but, as long as you don't lease any equipment from the company and don't have any outstanding bills, it cannot reasonably withhold its consent.
Take Them to Court
For whatever rationale you're using to avoid the termination fee, ask a customer service representative to show you where in the service agreement contract it says that your rationale doesn't work. Then have the representative mail you a physical copy of the contract — the one with your actual signature on it. If Dish can't supply such a copy, you can take your case to small claims court. If it does, small claims court is still an option, though the legal language is heavily weighted in Dish's favor. However, if the company simply doesn't show up, you'd win by default.