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Charter Gains Big in ACSI Survey

Charter Communications, leaped 8% in the American Customer Satisfaction Index in the past year, finishing the period with an overall benchmark score of 64 out of a possible 100 and placing a strong second to perennial cable ACSI leader Cox Communications.

Cox finished the period up 3% to 65, still below the 67 score it netted in 2011, but an improvement over last year's decline of 6%. Comcast had a more modest gain of 3%, rising from a 61 score to 63 in the period. Time Warner Cable, which lost about 119,000 video subscribers in the first quarter, had the biggest decline, dropping 5% to a rating of 60 from 63 in the prior year.

Overall, the subscription TV industry gained about 3%, ending a three-year run of stagnant customer satisfaction to finish the year with a rating of 68, according to ACSI. That rise was due mostly to improvements at telco video and satellite TV providers. Among TV service providers, those offering service via fiber-optics or satellite earned the highest points for customer satisfaction - on average fiber-optic/satellite TV service providers averaged a 72 score versus 63 for cable providers.

FiOS led the telco group with a 73 rating, down 1% for the year, which DirecTV logged a 72 rating and AT&T's U-Verse service rated a 71. Dish Network gained 1% in the period to finish with a 70 rating.
"While nearly 90% of households have some form of TV subscription, the industry is facing small, but growing, competition from Internet video streaming," ACSI director David VanAmburg said in a statement. "The industry's pattern of yearly price increases, coupled with sporadic reliability, keeps customer satisfaction low relative to other household services and vulnerable to new technologies that enter the market."

Subscription TV customers give picture quality strong ratings for both HD and basic resolution, but find call center service to be lacking compared with most other industries, according to the ACSI report.

ACSI began rating Internet Service Providers for the first time this year, and ISPs debuted with a customer satisfaction benchmark of 65-the lowest score among 43 ACSI industries.

"High monthly bills combined with problems across a broad spectrum of customer experience benchmarks-such as service reliability, data transfer speed and video-streaming quality-leaves customers less than satisfied with their ISP service," said ACSI founder and chairman Claes Fornell in a statement. "But in a market even less competitive than subscription TV, there is little incentive for companies to improve."

Only Verizon's FiOS and the aggregate of all other smaller ISPs break out of the 60s with identical ACSI scores of 71. Cox beats the average at 68, followed by AT&T U-verse and Charter at 65. Rounding out the sector is CenturyLink at 64, Time Warner Cable at 63 and Comcast at 62.

The wireless industry reversed course in the period, ending a two-year stretch of declining customer satisfaction ratings with a 2.9% gain to an ACSI benchmark of 72. But despite matching its 10-year high, wireless service remains well below the national ACSI average.

Verizon Wireless leads the larger carriers due to a 4% jump to 73, ahead of Sprint, which stalled at 71 in the period. AT&T Mobility gained 1% to 70, while T-Mobile dipped 1% to 68.

The ACSI uses data from interviews with about 70,000 customers annually, measuring satisfaction with more than 230 companies in 43 industries and 10 economic sectors, as well as over 100 services, programs, and websites of federal government agencies.

The Index was founded at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and is produced by ACSI LLC, which became a standalone company in 2009.