EarthLink rocks, J.D. Power says

Broadband provider ranks No. 1 in marketing research firm's 2007 customer satisfaction study published Wednesday.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

Despite financial woes, EarthLink is kicking butt in the broadband market, according to a J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction survey published Wednesday.

EarthLink, which said last month that it would lay off nearly half its staff, got the highest customer satisfaction ranking for delivering broadband services in the East and South regions of the United States. It also ranked second in the North Central region of the country.

Frank Perazzini, director of telecommunications at J.D. Power and Associates, said that what's impressive about EarthLink's performance in the survey is that it bucks conventional wisdom.

"Everyone believes that the triple play from the cable and phone companies is the answer," he said. "But EarthLink isn't a pure triple play provider, yet it's able to rise to the top in several regions, both in its traditional dial-up business and broadband, by providing a great service and a great value."

Perazzini admits that EarthLink's lead over cable and DSL rivals isn't huge. In the East, Cablevision is a close second. And Bright House Networks' Road Runner service and Verizon Communications aren't far behind EarthLink in the South.

But the company has had strong and consistent performance for years, making it a major contender in the broadband market, despite the fact that it doesn't own its own infrastructure. Instead, EarthLink relies on its cable and telephone competitors to lease it capacity, which it resells to consumers.

In many instances, EarthLink's service is not cheaper than a competing cable or DSL offering. But the company, which has built a strong dial-up access brand, has done a good job providing customer and technical support to broadband customers, too. Also, the company is able to drive more users to its portal and e-mail services than other broadband providers, said Perazzini.

"The perception is that EarthLink is providing value above and beyond its competitors," he said. "And that's how they are able to build loyalty among their customers."

But with major layoffs looming, it's hard to know whether EarthLink will be able to maintain this high standard of service. Last month, the company said it would lay off 900 employees or nearly half its staff.

"It could be hard for EarthLink to maintain the same level of service," Perazzini said. "Or it may be winning a J.D. Power and Associates award may be just what the company needs to come back and compete even stronger."

EarthLink's head of marketing, Jacqueline Yeaney, said the company plans to keep doing what it's been doing.

"EarthLink has always focused on our customers' online experience, and receiving J.D. Power and Associates' highest ranking is recognition of that commitment," she said in a statement. "We'll continue providing the fast, reliable Internet service that consumers expect as well as the software tools, products and services that make the EarthLink brand synonymous with the highest standards of quality."

Another positive tidbit of information for EarthLink gleaned from the J.D. Power survey is that the dial-up market appears to be alive and well. This is especially good news for EarthLink, which still generates a good deal of cash from its dial-up business.

The survey found that dial-up users, who still make up about a third of the overall Internet access market, are more satisfied and more loyal to their service providers than high-speed Internet subscribers. About 51 percent of dial-up customers are loyal to their service provider, while only 42 percent of broadband customers said they were loyal their ISP.

Overall satisfaction is also higher among dial-up subscribers than high-speed subscribers, increasing 13 points from 2006. By contrast customer satisfaction among high-speed subscribers has declined by 13 points since 2006.