Satisfied with your cable, Internet service? Not so much, poll shows

Customer satisfaction with providers of pay TV, Internet and wireless access has hit its lowest level in seven years, according to a new survey.

People aren't too thrilled with their Internet service providers and cable TV companies. CNET

People have become even more unhappy with their Internet and cable TV providers, according to a new poll.

Released on Tuesday, the latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index found that the level of satisfaction with information services dropped by 3.4 percent to a score of 68.8 out of 100, the lowest level in the past seven years. Based on an ACSI poll of more than 14,000 customers taken in the first quarter of the year, people are upset over a combination of poor customer service and higher prices.

Companies in the cable TV, Internet and wireless fields have traditionally been stuck at the bottom of the list for customer support. But this year's ACSI report showed even bigger declines. In some cases, cable TV providers can get away with poor customer service as they may be the only choice for consumers in a certain region who want cable TV. But poor service may also prompt more disgruntled customers to simply cut the cord.

"There was a time when pay TV could get away with discontented users without being penalized by revenue losses from defecting customers, but those days are over," Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said in a press release. "Today people have more alternatives than ever before. Consumer abandonment of pay TV is shaking up the industry and lower satisfaction could mean even more cord cutting by subscribers ahead."

Among cable TV companies, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which called off their attempted merger last month, dropped even lower in the rankings. Comcast's customer satisfaction score fell by 10 percent to 54 out of 100, while Time Warner Cable's dropped by 9 percent to 41.

Charter Communications, which is now seeking to acquire Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, actually improved in the rankings by rising 5 percent to obtain a score of 63. But that score may shrink should the mergers actually go through. Data from ACSI shows that customer satisfaction usually drops in the short term following a merger as the companies involved strive to combine their operations.

A survey published last week from Consumer Reports also found unhappiness with some of the top cable providers, saying that "Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter are among the bottom dwellers in overall customer satisfaction for TV service."

Internet service providers also left customers with a bad taste. Satisfaction with ISPs overall was unchanged with an ACSI score of 63, but that grade tied for last place with subscription TV providers. Customers already start off unhappy because most have just one Internet provider servicing their region, leading to a lack of choice. From there, people complain about unreliable service, slow Internet speeds and higher subscription prices.

Among the ISPs on the list, CenturyLink saw its customer satisfaction rank drop by 8 percent to 60. Cox Communications fell by 9 percent to 58. And as an ISP, Charter Communications' grade declined by 7 percent to 57. Comcast retained its spot at the bottom of the list with a score of 56.

Satisfaction with wireless carriers overall fell by 2.8 percent to 70. Among those on the list, prepaid phone provider TracFone Wireless led the pack with a rank of 77. Verizon Wireless fell by 5 percent to 71. T-Mobile and AT&T both improved slightly with tie scores of 70. But Sprint dropped by 4 percent to 65.

The survey found that smaller wireless carriers had the highest customer satisfaction grades and showed a slight improvement as a group. Such smaller carriers typically offer contract-free deals with lower monthly fees, striking customers as a better value, according to ACSI.

ACSI also polled mobile-phone owners and found relatively good scores. Apple tied with Samsung in customer satisfaction, both winning a grade of 80 out of 100. Apple inched up by 1 percent, while Samsung fell by the same percentage.

"Despite its high-scoring phones, Samsung may find it difficult to chip into Apple's market share because of the need to overcome the brand appeal that is Apple's mainstay," ACSI director David VanAmburg said in a press release. "Samsung gained an initial advantage as the first manufacturer to introduce large screens for smartphones, but with the launch of large-screen phones by Apple, its loyal customers have little reason to look elsewhere."

However, Samsung topped Apple in customer satisfaction with one specific device. Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 topped the pack with a satisfaction rating of 86. Tied for second place with a score of 82 were Apple's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus along with Samsung's Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 3.

ACSI evaluates customer satisfaction with a variety of products and services among US consumers. The firm interviews around 70,000 customers each year, analyzing more than 300 companies.

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