Enforcing honest business practices in a 'Flat World'

Last year, when my parents were visiting the US, I decided to get Indian TV programming so they can watch it here. As Dish Network bill can go above $100 per month with such programming, I decided to go the Internet route by signing up with a service called WatchIndia.tv.

WatchIndia streams TV channels directly from India (including the ads, which is nice) over the internet. Its a subscription based service with monthly/yearly subscriptions. I purchased their 1 year service package.

Within a few weeks of getting the service, their quality started going down. It will constantly buffer or not work at all, and was overall very slow.The worst happened in december, when the set top box stopped working, and I was without indian programming for over a month during holidays.

Their customer support was polite but not helpful at all, and after a lot of arguing, they fixed my box and told me that I will get 3 months of extension to my service. My service would now expire in June instead of March.

Yesterday, I suddenly received an email from them saying they have 'renewed' my subscription for the next year and charged my credit card. I immediately called them to cancel it and refund the charge but they refused to do so without major fees. There was no notification that my subscription was going to get renewed, and I had not signed up for auto-renewal in the first place.

Now, the thing about WatchIndia is, even though they are focused primarily on US consumers, they have no US presence. There is no US office address or contact information (except a toll free customer support number). The only recourse I have is to dispute the charge on credit card, which I can luckily do. Basically, the company used typical sleazy tactics to renew my account and refusing to cancel the subscription.

This brings a question to the fact that as more of international companies start selling their services in the US, what recourse do the US consumers have so that they follow the law. Most states in the US have strict guidelines on companies that subscribe people for auto-renewal on their credit cards, and you can file a complain at the BBB in case they break the laws. However, international companies might not follow these guidelines, and its very difficult to actually go after them if they break the rules.

Hopefully, as more of these services start getting traction, the legal system will evolve to keep them from cheating their customers. Until then, we just need to be careful :).


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