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AT&T panned in Consumer Reports survey

Consumer Reports' latest survey finds AT&T wireless subscribers, especially iPhone users, are unhappy with AT&T's service.

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

It's official: AT&T is considered the worst cell phone network in the U.S., despite the fact it keeps attracting new customers interested in the iPhone, according to a survey of nearly 60,000 wireless consumers by Consumer Reports.

AT&T continues to rack up new subscribers every quarter due to its exclusive iPhone deal, but the company is slipping in terms of customer satisfaction, Consumer Reports says. In a blog post previewing its January issue which hits newsstands today, the group said that according to a survey of 58,000 consumers, AT&T had the lowest score of all U.S. wireless carriers in terms of customer satisfaction. Of all the carriers rated, AT&T was the only one to drop significantly in overall satisfaction.

More than half of the respondents answering the survey who said they used AT&T's service owned an iPhone. The Consumer Reports data found that iPhone owners were much less satisfied with their carrier and rated data service lower than owners of smartphones on other carriers did.

iPhone subscribers have long complained about AT&T's service. Still, cell phone subscribers have flocked to AT&T regardless of the bad reputation the company has earned for dropped calls and slow 3G service during congested times. During the third quarter, AT&T said that it activated more than 8 million smartphones, of which about 5.2 million of those devices were iPhones. It was the "the most iPhone activations ever in a quarter," the carrier said. During the second quarter of 2010, AT&T activated 3.2 million iPhones.

Consumer Reports speculates that some iPhone fans may go elsewhere, with AT&T's customer satisfaction levels sinking and its exclusive deal with the iPhone likely near an end. Verizon Wireless is rumored to be getting the iPhone in early 2011. Verizon has not confirmed these reports. But the carrier began selling the Apple iPad bundled with Verizon's MiFi product in October, which many believe is yet another sign that a Verizon iPhone is coming soon.

"Our survey suggests that an iPhone from Verizon Wireless, which is rumored, could indeed be good news for iPhone fans," Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports, said in the blog post.

AT&T put out this statement in response:

"We take this seriously and we continually look for new ways to improve the customer experience. The fact is wireless customers have choices and a record number of them chose AT&T in the third quarter, significantly more than our competitors. Hard data from independent drive tests confirms AT&T has the nation's fastest mobile broadband network with our nearest competitor 20 percent slower on average nationwide and our largest competitor 60 percent slower on average nationwide. And, our dropped call rate is within 1/10 of a percent - the equivalent of just one call in a thousand - of the industry leader."

On the flip side, Sprint Nextel appears to be gaining ground in customer satisfaction, according to the Consumer Reports survey. Sprint has pulled even with Verizon Wireless in this survey. Consumer Reports notes that Verizon has been "the clear top provider in our Ratings in most years since 2003." Sprint actually scored higher than Verizon in some aspects of the survey, the group noted.

Another notable finding from the survey is that U.S. Cellular, a regional carrier serving just 26 states mostly in the South and Midwest, beat Verizon Wireless as the top-rated provider offering service contracts.

The survey is part of Consumer Reports' annual comprehensive cell phone quality magazine package published for January. The issue goes on sale today.