Consumer Reports rates AT&T worst carrier

Posted Dec. 6, 2010 at 2:35 p.m.

AT&T’s customer satisfaction rating tumbled this year, ranking dead last among U.S. wireless carriers, according to a Consumer Reports survey released on Monday.

The nation’s second largest wireless network received the worst possible rating in eight of the nine categories the magazine studied, including overall value, voice service, data service, phone service, staff knowledge, and resolution of issues, among others.

Readers gave AT&T an overall score of just 60 out of 100, which is six points below its score a year ago and nine points below its nearest-ranked competitor, T-Mobile.

The report noted that AT&T “is now the worst carrier,“ and is the only wireless network with scores that dropped “significantly“ over last year.

More than half of the AT&T customers surveyed own an iPhone, and the survey found that iPhone owners were “much less satisfied“ with AT&T than other smartphone owners were with their carrier. IPhone owners were particularly dissatisfied with AT&T’s data service.

AT&T said it is working on solutions.

“We take this seriously and we continually look for new ways to improve the customer experience,“ said Fletcher Cook, spokesman for AT&T.

The wireless company was quick to point out that independent tests from Global Wireless Solutions have concluded that AT&T’s mobile broadband network is 20% faster than its nearest competitor and 60% faster than archrival Verizon Wireless.

AT&T also has tremendous momentum in the wireless space, adding a net 2.6 million new wireless customers last quarter, half of whom were new iPhone customers. That represented far more net additions than any of its competitors.

But the network’s momentum will soon face a giant challenge. Fortune and other news outlets have reported that AT&T is about to lose its exclusive hold on the iPhone at the end of the year, and that Verizon will start selling the iPhone beginning in early 2011. As many as 6 million of AT&T’s iPhone subscribers could defect to Verizon, according to a forecast by Drake Johnstone, a Davenport & Co. analyst.

“Our survey suggests that an iPhone from Verizon Wireless … could indeed be good news for iPhone fans,“ said Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports, in a prepared statement.

At the same time, Verizon is no longer the clear leader in overall satisfaction, a position it has held almost every year since 2003, according to the survey. Verizon led the nationwide carriers with an overall score of 74 — one point lower than last year.

But Sprint Nextel made a startling leap forward with a rating of 73, which is six points higher than the previous year. It even surpassed Verizon in some aspects of customer service, which Consumer Reports called “a remarkable turnaround,“ considering that was a weak point for the network in years past. Sprint was ranked last in the survey as recently as two years ago.

Sprint easily leapfrogged T-Mobile, after that carrier’s satisfaction score fell by one point.

The big up-and-comer was regional carrier U.S. Cellular, which was included in Consumer Reports’ most recent survey because it is now available in 26 states. The report said the network “stands out for value, voice service, and customer service.“

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  1. AJ Cooper Dec. 7, 2010 at 9:18 a.m.

    @RockhardMasterson (great name, by the way):

    AT&T has never said it has 4G. that’s TMobile, who is, by the way, lying about it. AT&T is just now ramping up HSPA+ (3G+) on the way to LTE. But anyway, when AT&T first got iPhone, nobody knew it would become the success it did….in the space of a year their network usage increased 5000 percent. So yes there would be growing pains.

  2. Ms Blondie Dec. 7, 2010 at 9:25 a.m.

    I can’t wait to cancel my phone with AT&T. I switched 2 years ago so my husband and I would be on the same network and all we have is dropped calls. A problem I never had on Sprint. I plan to go back to Sprint as soon as my contract expires. And I don’t own an iPhone so it’s not just those users who are dissatisfied.

  3. tizzilish Dec. 7, 2010 at 9:29 a.m.

    I have been with AT&T since 1997 and have an iPhone. I love the phone, love the service. The only time I had an issue was when there was a single square mile radius of no service. I called AT&T, they said that I was not the first person to mention this. They sent someone out to see what was happening (as there were antennas in place) and then actually called me back to let me know that the issue had been resolved and I should not have anymore issues in that area. And I haven’t.

  4. A.D.Odom Dec. 7, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

    Had AT&T since it was Cellular ONE. While I have been satisfied with the wireless service, I find the service dept. to be Horrible. Recently had a problem with a new phone that was under warrantee, and found the folks that handle this problem to be rude, if not nasty. They made me feel as though I was out to “scam” them. When I told them I didn’t appreciate the way they were treating me and that because of it I planned to change to a different service… the reply was: “FINE” ….. I will be changing.

  5. Jeff Dec. 7, 2010 at 10:14 a.m.

    It’s funny how with AT&T they state 97% coverage of the market…it seems I am in the other 3% about half the time, blackberry, iphone, it doesn’t matter.

  6. lzuk Dec. 7, 2010 at 10:19 a.m.

    We switched to AT&T from Sprint 2 years ago and love them. I had Sprint for 9 years prior to that and had problem after problem with my billing always being way over for the first several months after changing plans. The last time their attitude about it was rude and they told me there was nothing they could do about it and I was expected to pay for over $200 worth of additional ‘data charges” for items that were supposed to be included in my plan! It was only AFTER I switched to AT&T that they called with a supposedly “secret solution” that their regular agents did not know about but only these retaining agents knew which would fix my issues for good. What a line of garbage. AT&T has been good to me, is always helpful when I call and always takes care of any issue pleasantly.

  7. C.A. Saunders Dec. 7, 2010 at 10:20 a.m.

    I have had AT&T also since it was Cellular One in 1994. Through the name changes and finally ending up AT&T, I have never had a problem. They have always been prompt to help me in anyway they could when I encountered a problem. I travel to Idaho and Nebraska and have never had any problems with service or dropped calls unless of course I was in the mountains and no one would get service there. I will stay with AT&T and the iPhone. In my case – keep up the good work AT&T!

  8. Nathan Dec. 7, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.

    Almost everyone I know who has an iPhone complains about the AT&T network. Add to that the iPhone 4 design flaws and you have even more dissatisfied people. If Verizon starts offering the iPhone, let’s see how their network handles the demand. I think in the end, people will realize that there is no network available that can handle the iPhone masses and keep them all happy.

  9. Vicki Dec. 7, 2010 at 10:35 a.m.

    AT&T is the absolute worse! I’ve had so many PROBLEMS with their service (far too many to list) but I can’t cancel them because they have me locked in a contract. I can’t wait until Verizon picks up the iPhone next summer. When my contract is up with AT&T, I’m dropping them like the plague!

  10. janet Dec. 7, 2010 at 10:38 a.m.

    I have had AT & T for years and cannot wait to cancel in May of 2011. I pay 84.00 a month for 1400 minutes, nothing more, all the other carriers have unlimited minutes, text, etc. This is ridiculous! I am now looking at a phone that has no contract (Verizon). I’m glad they know they are bad and I don’t truly think they care. They think they have the market on cell phones, uverse, etc.

  11. Bee Dec. 7, 2010 at 11:03 a.m.

    I switched to AT&T from Verizon five years ago and I haven’t looked back. I am satisfied with the service, and I have not had an issue with their customer service as I did with Verizon (HORRIBLE customer service with constant problems.)

    I did have a contract with Sprint from 99-2001, but got out of that contract as soon as I possibly could. I got no service in or near my home, or on my route to work. They weren’t willing to work with me to solve my problems so I will never go back.

  12. Harry Dec. 7, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Been with ATT since it was Cingular. Never had a problem, even when I used my phone internationally. Think a lot of peoples problems are their own fault for not understanding their device or how to use it properly. THEY HAVE LIMITATIONS. Same with computer and internet users who muck up their machines and think it’s always someone elses fault.

    In many cases you paid a lot of money for that thing. Learn how to use it. READ THE OWNERS MANUAL….AND YOUR CONTRACT! That’s why they give you one!

  13. Patrick Dec. 7, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I’m an AT&T/iphone customer. I am counting the days until my contract is up in March 2011 when I will switch over to Verizon.

  14. Richard DeVries Dec. 7, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I subscribe to Consumer Reports and read this last week. Of course I don’t like it much since I am (usually proudly) retired from 30 years in engineering roles with AT&T and Wisconsin Telephone Co. My last five years was in cellular engineering with Bell Labs in Naperville during the last days of analog service, and the transition to various digital schemes. I have been in all lower 48 states, many with AT&T, as I did drive testing of about 40,000 miles of windshield time per year. AT&T helped invent CDMA but uses GSM instead. In Wheaton, one engineer was at Bell Labs in the CDMA team. His license plate was “CDMA 95″ to celebrate his role in Code Division Multiple Access. Now Global System for Mobile is used so as to be compatible in Europe (I think).

    The entire concept of cellular technology was invented by Bell Laboratories in the 1960’s and was early described in the BSTJ (Bell System Technical Journal) that I read first in 1968-69 in the radio group in Milwaukee where I worked. Being oriented toward the broadcast type of mobile coverage, we wondered “Surely this concept of handoff just cannot work!” But it did — first in Philadelphia and on Long Island I think it was. It was FM analog of course, and was truly two-way simultaneous — of which none of the digital schemes are. That’s what makes the one most common word on a mobile call today is “What?”

  15. RockhardMasterson Dec. 7, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    @AJ Cooper

    Good point, and yes T-Mobile is lying about their HSPA+ network being 4G, AT&T actually has the same HSPA+ technology in their network, it’s just a much more crowded network. In fact Sprint is also lying about their 4G network. I’m a sprint customer, and I have a samsung moment, not the Epic 4G, but if I were paying the extra 10 dollars a month for the 4G service I would examine the wording in my bill very carefully. If sprint refers to the charge as a “4G” charge of any kind, they are billing you for a service they can’t actually provide, which is highly illegal. In essence no wireless carrier is actually using true 4G technology right now. This article is a quick read and has some of the technical aspects of why 4g does not exists right now.

  16. Dan Dec. 9, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    I cannot wait to dump AT&T for Verizon. Just drove crosscountry and (seriously) had no cell service 50% of the time. Oh sure I could see ‘bars’, but calls wouldn’t go through or would quickly drop. Pathetic.
    At home we have to be careful of what room we are in or what part of the back yard because there are so many dead spots.

  17. Jim Caffrey Dec. 10, 2010 at 8:22 a.m.

    I would like to know who was in on this survey. I can tell you from experience that Verizon has the worst customer service in the business. I had Verizon for 5 years, great service but they lost my deposit and it took a year to locate it even though I had a reciept. Stupid people working at their customer service desks. I switched to T-Mobile 4 years ago and have the best plan with the best reates over all other carriers. T-Mobile’s customer service is the best. They quickly resolved any problems I had. Thank you T-Mobile for being the best in the business in all you do.

  18. Jason Dec. 10, 2010 at 11:01 a.m.

    For all the AT&T Fanboys and Apologists who say no network can handle the demand created by the iPhone:

    Verizon smartphones on average use 25% more data than iPhones on AT&T (

    Verizon and Sprint ALREADY each handled more data than AT&T in 2009. (

    Time to come to grips with the facts. You are being misled. And you are paying through the nose for the nation’s worst cellular service. Because you are a slave to your iPhone. Which is not a sin. But you should probably consider Verizon.