Sprint offers DirecTV customers a free year of service

The offer is targeted at rival AT&T, which just closed its acquisition of DirecTV and began offering its own bundles of discounted wireless and satellite TV services.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
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Sprint is getting aggressive with DirecTV customers. CNET

Sprint has found a novel way to lure away customers from a rival: give its service away for free.

The nation's fourth-largest wireless carrier said on Thursday that as a way to "celebrate" rival AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV, it would offer any of its satellite TV customers a free year of wireless service. The offer includes unlimited voice calls, text messages and 2 gigabytes of data. The promotion begins Friday and runs through September 30.

It's the latest move in a wild summer filled with aggressive promotions, programs and cost cuts as the wireless carriers increasingly elbow each other for your business. T-Mobile, for instance, let its customers use their smartphones in Canada and Mexico without any roaming fees, while Verizon shed its practice of offering service contracts and phone subsidies. Sprint hasn't been quiet either, and turned up the heat with its latest promotion.

The offer specifically calls out rival AT&T, which earlier this month introduced its first bundles with discounted satellite TV and wireless service. The nation's second-largest carrier believes that those bundles will keep its customers sticking around longer.

AT&T dismissed the promotion.

"This ranks right up there with a desperate Hail Mary pass to a petite defensive lineman," the company said in a statement. "With Sprint's network and the many asterisks on this deal, we're feeling good about our offers."

Sprint aims to dash AT&T's hopes. DirecTV customers need to show a copy of their recent bill to verify their status to qualify for the offer. Customers also need to sign up for a leasing program, a monthly installment program for their smartphone, or buy a new smartphone outright. A household is eligible to sign up for up to five lines, each free for 12 months.

"DirecTV customers love their TV service -- but they shouldn't have to settle for AT&T wireless," said Kevin Crull, chief marketing officer for Sprint. "Why not build the perfect bundle by combining with Sprint wireless?"

While the service is free, customers are responsible to cover the cost of their devices. Customers also need to pay a one-time $36 activation fee and monthly taxes and surcharges. Sprint said it will buy customers out of their existing contracts or pay up to $300 for an existing smartphone.

After the first year, customers are moved into existing plans, which range between $50 for a single line and $180 for five lines. Sprint's bet is that customers will like the service enough to stick around.

While Sprint has made progress in turning around its flagging subscriber base, the company still suffers from the perception that its network lags behind its rivals. But it has made improvements in the quality of its service, and the company is getting aggressive when it comes to convincing customers to give it another chance.

Updated at 2:04 p.m. PT: With a comment from AT&T.