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AT&T Customers' Blood Pressure On The Rise

Consumer Reports' annual wireless customer satisfaction survey contains findings that will probably cause AT&T executives to reach for whatever pain killers happen to be on hand.

Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports polled 50,000 readers in 26 cities and found that AT&T received the lowest customer satisfaction ranking in 19 of these cities, with its lowest ratings coming in the voice service and customer support categories. Verizon, on the other hand, was ranked highest in nearly every category.

As noted by the All Things Digital blog, Consumer Reports said the iPhone was among the best of all the smartphones it tested, but also described AT&T as "middling at best in satisfaction."

In its most recent quarter, AT&T added 2 million wireless subscribers and activated a record 3.2 million iPhones, 40 percent of which were new customers. But AT&T's exclusive iPhone deal with Apple will likely end in 2010, and while company officials have said they expect growth to continue unabated, such proclamations are beginning to sound like whistling past the graveyard.

AT&T has enjoyed the revitalizing effect of the iPhone on its business. But from day one, the carrier has shown itself to be unenthusiastic about bolstering its network to support key iPhone features.

Multimedia messaging service and wireless tethering were glaringly absent when Apple launched the iPhone 3GS in June, and attendees at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference reacted to this news with lusty boos. AT&T added support for MMS in September but still hasn't done the same for tethering despite pledging to do so by year's end.

Meanwhile, if you listen closely enough you can almost hear champagne corks popping at Verizon Wireless headquarters, in celebration of the holiday gift that the Consumer Reports survey represents. In promoting its new Droid smartphone, Verizon has been taking aim at AT&T's 3G coverage shortcomings with a series of craftily designed advertisements.

AT&T responded with a lawsuit that was almost immediately tossed out of court, and then enlisted the endorsement services of actor Luke Wilson to help counteract Verizon's claims. The ad battle between the two carriers may continue, but AT&T clearly just got knocked down a few notches.

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