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Customers unhappy with TV and ISP services, survey shows

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Most of us couldn't imagine life without our cable or satellite TV, high-speed Internet access and wireless communications. They've become basic utilities, and we pay handsomely for them. Yet, we aren't very satisfied with the service we get.

According to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), customer satisfaction with subscription TV (cable, satellite and fiber optic service) and Internet service providers continues to decline.

Satisfaction with pay TV fell 4.4 percent, to an ACSI score of 65 (on a 100-point scale), while ISPs—which include many of the same companies—dropped 3.1 percent to 63. These are the lowest scores of all 43 industries tracked by ACSI.

"Customers question the value proposition of both, as consumers pay for more than they need in terms of subscription TV, and get less than they want in terms of Internet speeds and reliability," said Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder.

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The survey finds that customers are much more dissatisfied with cable TV than with fiber-optic and satellite service. Dish Network (67), the lowest-scoring satellite TV company, still rates higher than the best cable company, Cox Communications (63). Comcast (parent company of CNBC) (60) and Time Warner Cable (56) have the most dissatisfied customers.

ACSI Managing Director David VanAmburg noted that for the last decade or so, the price of these communications services has been rising much faster than inflation. Some households, especially people living in an apartment, now pay more for TV and Internet service each month than they do for gas and electric.

Another complaint: When there is a service issue, the customer service experience is not very good.

"These are not companies that do a very good job of providing good call center customer care or good face-to-face customer care," VanAmburg said.

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Wireless service and a new cellphone favorite

Americans aren't exactly thrilled with their wireless providers, but customer satisfaction is holding steady at 72 out of 100. Customers are much happier with their cellphone service than they were five years ago.

"It's definitely an improving service, although it's still one of the least satisfying," VanAmburg said.

Verizon's ACSI score went up 3 percent to 75, which helped separate it from the other major wireless companies. T-Mobile went up 1 percent (69), while Sprint (down 4 percent) and AT&T Mobility (down 3 percent) both scored 68.

What makes customers unhappy?

Consumers don't like long-term contracts with early termination fees, even though that's why they get a huge discount on the price of the phone. And signal reliability is still an issue. Wireless companies have spent billions to build-out and improve their networks, but there are still dead spots and dropped calls.

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A growing issue is bandwidth: providing the capacity to handle all the things our more powerful smartphones let us do, like stream a movie or watch live TV.

"Wireless carriers are constantly playing catch-up to try to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for more data and more streaming," VanAmburg explained.

Satisfaction with the cellphone itself is up for a second-straight year, now at a new all-time high of 78. This is largely due to the steady switch to smartphones, which get very high customer satisfaction scores.

And the favorite smartphones are now made by Samsung. With an ACSI score of 81 (up 7 percent from last year), Samsung beats Apple in overall customer satisfaction for the first time in this survey. Apple dropped for the second year in a row, down 2 percent to 79. Motorola Mobility and Nokia (now Microsoft) are both close behind at 77.

"Samsung has gone from an up-and-comer to top-of-the-heap on the strength of its smartphone portfolio," he said. "Apple's magic isn't gone, but the luster has dulled on its older models."

You'll find the full report on the telecommunications industry on the American Customer Service Index website.

—By CNBC contributor Herb Weisbaum. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @TheConsumerman or visit The ConsumerMan website.

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