In a recent J.D. Power survey of consumer attitudes, the ISP beat out nine dial-up and 12 high-speed service providers to take the top spot in both categories, the marketing company said Wednesday.
In the dial-up segment,was followed by United Online, owner of Juno and NetZero, AT&T WorldNet and BellSouth, in that order.
For high-speed connections, Verizon and Road Runner came in second and third, followed by a tie between BellSouth and Cox Communications for fourth place, the market researcher said.
Customers were asked to evaluate the providers on seven factors: customer service, performance and reliability, image, offerings and promotions, e-mail services, cost of service, and billing. EarthLink had the top ratings in each of those categories except cost of service and billing.
Some 9,500 residential customers nationwide participated in the survey.
In other findings, J.D. Power said that respondents feel the major dial-up and high-speed ISPs have significantly improved their ability to protect subscribers from spam in the past year. But satisfaction levels for hacker and virus protection declined in both the dial-up and high-speed segments, the Westlake Village, Calif.-based marketing company said.
"Protection against security threats such as hackers and viruses represent the sole black mark in satisfaction trends across both segments," Steve Kirkeby, senior director of telecommunications research at J.D. Power, said in a statement. "Consumers are managing more aspects of their lives on the Internet--banking, paying bills, managing their calendars and relationships--and they have a (more urgent need) for privacy and security."
Additionally, the study found that the number of households with Internet access rose to 66 percent in 2004. This represents 2 percent growth from 2003, compared with a 7 percent increase seen last year.
Broadband penetration is growing at a faster rate, J.D. Power said. Of those with the Internet access, 39 percent have broadband connections, up from 26 percent last year. Broadband subscribers spend an average of 18 hours a week online, compared with last year's average of 17.6 hours. High-speed subscribers are paying an average of $44.12 per month for their service, up from $42.15 in 2003.