Cox, Bright House, WOW Top J.D. Power's Phone Survey

Cable operators again beat out telcos to earn the highest regional customer-satisfaction scores on J.D. Power & Associates' annual survey of residential telephone services.

Cox Communications took the trophy for the East and West regions -- marking the ninth year in a row the MSO won the West -- and was near the top in the South. Bright House Networks won top honors in the South and independent cable operator WideOpenWest scored highest in North Central.

"No recognition is more important than that from the customers we serve each day," Cox director of media relations Todd Smith said in an e-mailed statement. "J.D. Power & Associates and other third-party studies have consistently validated our efforts to deliver competitive products backed by excellent customer service."

Other cable operators didn't fare as well. Comcast had poor ratings in three regions, but turned in better-than-average marks for the West, while Time Warner Cable had average ratings in three regions but was below average in the East. Charter Communications scored below average in its three regions.

Across cable and telco customers, satisfaction with performance and reliability -- the biggest factor in J.D. Power's overall satisfaction ratings -- dropped 6% to an average of 7.4 (on a 10-point scale) compared with 7.9 last year. According to the research firm, service outages due to severe winter weather were to blame.

"The brutal winter weather that plagued much of the country clearly took a toll on service levels," J.D. Power director of telecommunications Frank Perazzini said. "In fact, the proportion of customers who contacted customer service to report an outage jumped to 21% in 2011 from 12% in 2010."

J.D. Power also found that the use of Internet calling services -- such as Skype or Vonage -- increased to 21% in 2011, up from 16% in 2010. Customers who use Internet calling services are significantly less satisfied with their telephone provider, giving them a rating of 622 (on a 1000-point scale) on average, which is 14 index points below the industry average of 636. Internet voice customers also are more likely to switch telephone providers (23% vs. the industry average of 16%).

Rankings by region were:

East: Cox, 659; Cablevision Systems, 647; Verizon, 640; AT&T, 635; Comcast, 628; Time Warner Cable, 626; Frontier, 615.

South: Bright House, 704; Cox, 680; AT&T, 637; Verizon,637; Time Warner Cable, 636; Windstream, 632; CenturyLink, 629; Charter, 621; Comcast, 621.

North Central: WOW, 721; Cincinnati Bell, 665; AT&T, 631; Time Warner Cable, 630; Comcast, 626; CenturyLink, 616; Charter, 612; Frontier, 591.

West: Cox, 669; CenturyLink, 639; Comcast, 634; Qwest, 633; Time Warner Cable, 631; Verizon, 623; AT&T, 609; Charter, 589.

J.D. Power's 2011 U.S. Residential Telephone Customer Satisfaction Study is based on a survey of 20,761 customers in the U.S. fielded in four waves: November 2010, January 2011, April 2011 and July 2011.

The study measures customer satisfaction with both local and long distance telephone service. J.D. Power uses five factors to determine overall satisfaction: performance and reliability; cost of service; billing; offerings and promotions; and customer service.