How Can Military Cancel Cable TV, Internet & Phone Contracts?

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Servicemembers and their families know all too well that military life often means pulling up roots and moving. This can cause a problem when cable TV, internet and phone contracts include penalties for canceling early, known as early termination fees, or ETFs.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows members of the military to end cable TV, internet and phone contracts without being penalized.

The law has conditions, however. The biggest is that military members must notify the provider, in writing or electronically, that they would like service terminated under the SCRA, and they must include the military orders that make termination necessary.

There are many other ins and outs of terminating cable TV, internet and phone service, including the length of personal change of station, or PCS,, deployment orders, and more.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The SCRA provides financial protection to active-duty servicemembers, as well as National Guard and reservists who are on active duty; those absent from duty for a lawful cause or because of sickness, being wounded or leave; and commissioned officers in active service of the Public Health Service or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Coverage begins when the military member begins active duty and extends to 30 to 90 days after discharge.

The SCRA was created in 2003, an expansion of the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act of 1940. The laws are designed to protect service members and their families from financial hardship and debt that can come from entering the service or beginning active duty. A 1948 court decision stressed that the burden is on creditors and those providing service to adhere to the law. “The Act must be read with an eye friendly to those who dropped their affairs to answer their country’s call,” the decision said. There are stiff penalties for companies that don’t comply.

The original act goes back to the Civil War, with temporary versions up to 1940. The SCRA brought the law into the modern age while maintaining the core mission. The overall objective is to keep servicemembers from falling into debt simply because they got called to duty.

In 2008, the SCRA, was expanded to include phone contracts. In 2018, the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act added cable TV service and internet to the protections. Keep in mind, though, that you still have to return cable boxes, modems and other rented equipment, and you are liable for fines and fees if those items are not returned.

The SCRA applies for any deployment or relocation of 90 days or more that doesn’t offer the same service from the same provider.

When Should Military Members Cancel Contracts?

Don’t wait until the last minute to cancel contracts and hope that the SCRA will cover the fees. It’s important to understand SCRA protections and what steps to follow.

The SCRA has clauses that address specific contracts, like mortgages and auto and housing leases, as well as cable TV, phone and internet. The protections kick in when the military member gets specific PCS or deployment orders.

Cancel Phone, TV, and Internet Contracts When You Receive PCS Orders

PCS is a reality of military life. When these orders come, the military member must pack up and move. This often means cable TV, internet and phone contracts for a year or longer must be broken. Almost all of the companies providing those services charge you handsomely for breaking a contract.

The SCRA protects military members from those fees, but not if the provider offers the same service in the new location. This would most often come into play for cellphone contracts, which aren’t location-specific the way cable TV and internet usually are. The military member is responsible for contracts that would still be valid in their new location.

Once you get PCS orders, it’s up to you to provide a copy of your military ID card and orders to your cable TV, phone and internet providers so they can verify that you qualify to break the contract under the SCRA.

The law is clear: “A servicemember may terminate a contract … at any time after the date the service member receives military orders to relocate for a period of not less than 90 days to a location that does not support the contract.”

If your situation is covered by the law but you are still having trouble getting out of a contract or being asked to pay fees you don’t think you owe, contact your base’s legal office. The U.S. Department of Justice says that should be the first step, but if military legal assistance can’t resolve the problem, then department will review the complaint.

Cancel Phone, TV and Internet Contracts When You Deploy

The SCRA protections for deployment are the same as those for PCS. If you’re deployed oversees, it may seem obvious that you would get out of your contracts without having to pay early termination fees, but it can be tricky when cellphone service is involved.

An issue with cellphones is that they often still work overseas, though the costs can increase substantially. If your service still works overseas but you believe it will be too expensive to maintain, you can appeal to the cellphone service provider. Before you do this,, make sure that you signed the contract in question before you received deployment orders.

As with PCS, be sure have your military ID and orders handy, as well as a copy of the service contract. If the service provider needs your information, and you have digital copies, you can email it to them. You can also scan it and email it, or even fax it.

You’ll make your case more effectively if you speak to someone directly, so speak in person to a customer service representative, even if you email or fax your documents. If the customer service rep says they can’t help you, ask to speak to a supervisor. Be sure to take notes, repeat any agreement to them to make sure you’re both on the same page, and get the agreement in writing. You’ll need this if the company doesn’t follow through.

Another option is to pause your service a while you are overseas. Even if you cancel the contract, the SCRA allows military members to keep their cellphone number for up to three years if they cancel because of a PCS or deployment.

The law also specifies that a servicemember can cancel a family plan if they’re deploying overseas but their family is staying home.

Protections for Military Family Members

The most recent update of the SCRA is one that expands protections for military family members.

Under the Protecting the Families of Fallen Servicemembers Act, if a military member is killed or seriously injured while on active duty, the family can terminate the member’s internet, phone, and cable contracts without any financial penalties.

The Jan. 5, 2021, amendment is under section 3956(a) of the SCRA, and it recognizes that families of military members who die or are seriously injured while on duty face enough financial hardship without having to deal with early termination fees on cable TV, internet and cellphone contracts.

About The Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken has been writing about finance, banking, investment, entrepreneurship, real estate and other related topics for more than 30 years. She started as the “Business Beat” columnist for the now-defunct Haverhill (Mass.) Gazette and currently is one of the hosts of the Mainebiz business-focused podcast, “The Day that Changed Everything” in addition to her daily writing. She also is is the author of three mystery novels and two nonfiction books.

Sources:

  1. Kaufman, R. (ND) Cell Phone Contracts and the Servicemenbers Civil Relief Act. Retrieved from https://www.servicememberscivilreliefact.com/blog/cell-phone-contracts-and-the-servicemembers-civil-relief-act/
  2. N.A. (ND) H.R. 4356 (116th): Protecting Families of Fallen Servicemembers Act. Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hr4356/summary
  3. N.A. (ND) The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/servicemembers/servicemembers-civil-relief-act-scra