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In Least Surprising Announcement Ever, AT&T is Deemed Worst Carrier by Consumer Reports

November 29, 2012 - Written By Doug Scudder

Consumer Reports released its ratings of US wireless carriers today. Most of us won’t be blown away by the ranking of the four major carriers in terms of customer satisfaction:

  1. Verizon
  2. Sprint
  3. T-Mobile
  4. AT&T

For many of us, other than rent and a car payment, our cell phone bill is one of the biggest investments we make each month. A family of four with smartphones can pay anywhere from $200 – $500 a month between data, voice, and texting plans. That money adds up quick, and we expect fast download speeds, a lack of dropped calls, and solid data coverage for our hard-earned cash. But as most of you know, even on Verizon (my carrier) those things are inconsistent at best.

While we are on the subject, Verizon shouldn’t get to cocky gloating over these results. None of the four major carriers scored above a 72% satisfaction rating, and national wireless carriers continue to be some of the lowest rated service providers that Consumer Reports evaluates. But why? We spend so much money, what we want seems simple, and practically everyone has a cell phone, so why is customer service among the big 4 so terrible?  I have a couple of ideas:

What are you going to do? Fire them?

One of the most basic principals of the free market is choice. Target is charging too much for tube socks? I can get four dozen for 99 cents at Walmart. Target has a vested interest in keeping me happy because the fire marshal forces them to keep the doors unlocked, so I can take my money elsewhere whenever I dang well please. Unfortunately, the wireless industry doesn’t work like this. Signing a 2 year contract would be bad enough, but remember that if you upgrade your phone, change a major feature in your plan, or add a line to your plan, your contract starts right over. Of course, companies like Verizon invest billions into their infrastructure, so signing a contract assures Verizon that they will make that money back. On one level this is understandable. But on the other hand, I have two dead spots between my home and work where I have no data connection. I live in a major city. Get it together, Verizon. All that to say: Less Choice = Less Competition.

My advice? Go get yourself an off-contract Nexus from the Play Store and forget about paying crazy high prices for data each month while being locked into a contract. The catch? You won’t have LTE, and LTE is amazing. Thanks, Google, for the lack of an LTE variant of the Nexus 4 (more or less).

The Industry is Still Somewhat New:

“New” is a difficult term to use, especially on the internet. A meme might be “old” after a week, or even a day. A device like a top-of-the-line Android phone gets “old” once it is replaced in 6 months or so. Facebook is considered established and relatively stable among social networks, yet it was founded in 2004. The wireless industry as we know it today has been around for something like 10-15 years. That might seem like plenty of time to figure out how this whole industry should work, but remember how much cell phone usage has changed in just the last 10 years. In 2002 texting was done mostly in class by high school students who had just gotten their first cell phone (ah nostalgia,  how I’ve missed you). Now our phones have more power and speed than most desktops did in 2002, and their functionality is growing by leaps and bounds each year (unless you have an iPhone, in which case you’ve been using the same phone since 2008). This kind of a drastic change in an industry means that large companies like Verizon will take a long time to adjust. Big companies just don’t/can’t change quickly, and building a national LTE network is something that only a huge company could ever afford to do.

Hopefully, as the wireless industry learns to listen to what we want (data only plans) and figures out how to give it to us in a cost effective way, we will all be happier with our cell provider of choice in the near future. If not, we can always spend our time dreaming about Google Wireless.