Americans Just Don't Like Their Internet Provider

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Americans are not big fans of their cable TV service or their cell phone service. But they really hate their internet service provider, according to a survey released on Tuesday.

The new American Customer Service Index (ACSI) report on the information sector should be a wake-up call for the nation's ISP industry. It scored only 65 out of 100 in the annual survey, the lowest score for any of the 43 industries ACSI measures.

"High monthly bills combined with problems across a broad spectrum of customer experience benchmarks – such as service reliability, data transfer speed and video-streaming quality – leaves customers less than satisfied with their ISP service," said Claes Fornell, chairman and founder of ACSI. "But in a market even less competitive than subscription TV, there is little incentive for companies to improve."

This is the first time ACSI measured how customers feel about their Internet Service Provider. FiOs from Verizon topped the list with a score of 71. Cox (68) beat the average. AT&T U-verse and Charter Communications tied at 65. CenturyLink (64), Time Warner Cable (63) and Comcast (62), all rated below average.

(Comcast the parent company of NBCUniversal, which owns NBC News.)

Excluding Internet service, American consumers seem to be happier with telecommunications services and technologies than they were a year ago.

"But none of these services is doing a particularly good job compared to all of the other industries that households typically purchase and consume from," noted David VanAmburg, director of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. "They tend to be among the lowest scoring industries in the ACSI."

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Why is that?

It has a lot to do with our expectations of the technology we buy and the fact that companies don't always deliver what they promise.

"When you have problems with reliability and you're paying a high price for it, that tends to really dampen customer satisfaction," VanAmburg said.

Subscription TV

For the first time in three years, customer satisfaction for cable, satellite and fiber-optic television providers went up. The 3 percent gain gives this segment of the industry an overall score of 68. Even so, it's still the third worst of the 43 industries in the ACSI survey.

"It's definitely a more reliable service overall than Internet access, but there are issues with interruptions, outages and channels not being available," VanAmburg said.

Customers, who often pay as much for TV service as they do for their home energy bills each month, don't like it when a favorite channel gets yanked. This typically happens when the program suppliers and the service providers argue over compensation.

Fiber-optic and satellite services had the best marks for customer satisfaction in this group. They had an average score of 72, significantly higher than the overall score of 63 for cable service.

Verizon's FiOS stayed in first place (73). DIRECTV (72) and AT&T U-verse (71) which both saw strong gains in the last year are close behind. DISH Network (70) also scored above average.

Most cable companies did better in 2013, but they're all below average. Cox Communications was the top-rated cable provider (65), followed by Charter Communications (64) up 8 percent from 2012, and Comcast (63). Time Warner was the only cable company to have a lower score this year. It dropped 5 percent to an industry low of 60.

Wireless service and cell phones

After two years of declining customer satisfaction scores, the wireless industry had a gain of nearly 3 percent. Even though the score of 72 is a 10-year high, wireless service remains well below the national ACSI average.

Wireless carriers have spent a lot of money to improve their networks and it appears customers have noticed. Coverage is getting better and dropped calls are less of an issue. Data speeds, while still not great, are improving.

But customers really don't like contracts with cancellation fees which make it harder to switch companies.

Verizon topped the list of the major wireless carriers (73), followed by Sprint (71) and AT&T (70). The only company in this group to see customer satisfaction drop was T-Mobile at 68.

Even though the land-line phone business continues to lose customers, people gave fixed-wire telephone service better marks for reliability and clarity of calls than wireless.

One bright spot for the industry: smartphones. People like the advanced features and ever-growing universe of apps, but battery life remains an irritant.

It's no surprise that Apple dominates this category with a score of 81, although that's a 2 percent drop from last year. Motorola (77) is second. Samsung jumped to 76 after launching its popular Galaxy S III, the same score as Nokia. The rest of the pack: HTC (72), LG (71) which both dropped from last year, and Blackberry in last place at 69.

Computer software

Satisfaction for both desktop and laptop computers has dropped, down to 76. Microsoft, the giant in this industry, fell back 1 percent to 74.

Even though some have criticized Windows 8 for its redesign of the user interface, it "does not appear to have seriously dampened customer satisfaction" with Microsoft, the report said. Of course, the much-anticipated Windows 8 didn't help satisfaction either.

Can you hear me?

If the information sector wants to grow, companies need to listen to their customers and give them what they want, if possible.

"People want faster and better," VanAmburg said. "And we expect the network providers to deliver that."