Cell Phone Users Unhappy With Service

Verizon topped the latest Consumer Reports survey of mobile phone users.
With most Americans now owning a cell phone, it's tempting to think they have a love affair with the device. But it's more like a love-hate affair, based on the latest survey of cell phone users conducted by Consumer Reports and reported in its January issue.

Despite improvements ranging from more flexible service plans to faster wireless networks, the survey of more than 50,000 readers of Consumer Reports found that just 54% of the respondents were "completely or very satisfied" with their cell phone service.

In all of the 26 cities tracked by the magazine, Verizon Wireless was the top service provider. AT&T was ranked last in 17 of the cities. Features evaluated in the survey focused on no service, circuits full, dropped calls, and static.

Consumers cited the high cost of cell service as their chief complaint -- and Verizon led in that negative category. Consumer Reports noted that Verizon's $60 Nationwide basic service with 900 voice minutes was higher than T-Mobile's service, which includes 100 extra minutes for the same price. Customers of the top four carriers -- AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon -- grumbled about some features of e-mailing, texting, and Web access.

"America is in love with the cell phone, but (consumers) are lukewarm about cell-phone service," said Paul Reynolds, Consumer Reports electronics editor, in a statement. "They're especially concerned about its cost in these tight economic times."

The magazine said prepaid contracts are gaining acceptance and noted that its readers were generally happy with the low-cost service. TracFones, which operate on AT&T's network, received the highest satisfaction score among prepaid users.

While AT&T's voice service ranked at the bottom of the Consumer Reports survey, it supplies the highest-ranked smartphone in its ratings -- the iPhone. The Apple handset is a victim of its own success as its owners use it incessantly and gobble up AT&T's network throughput. AT&T has said it is rolling out new towers and infrastructure to catch up with the demand.

"A staggering 98% of iPhone users were satisfied enough that they would buy the phone again," Consumer Reports said, "despite below-par ratings for AT&T, the phone's exclusive carrier."

Sprint Nextel, which has been moving to improve its customer service, still was cited by survey respondents for "low marks for customer service."

For the first time this year, Consumer Reports included a category for data service for the nation's wireless service providers. Just 24% of the respondents said their Web and e-mail experience is "excellent" while 18% complained of the inability to send or receive e-mail.

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