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J.D. Powers Ranks Big Six ISPs

According to a recent J.D. Power & Associates report AT&T WorldNet took the top spot in overall customer satisfaction.

The report rated the nations largest Internet Service Providers based on responses from 4,173 online households.

Seven sweeping factors were used to determine the results, including cost and billing, speed and availability, customer care and technical support, as well as content and services provided.

AT&T WorldNet service received strong performance across all categories, including the two factors nearest and dearest to consumers hearts speed and price. The rating is a big turnaround from 1997 when the AT&T WorldNet network choked on its e-mail, 1998 when it experienced brownouts, and 1999 when it blamed another ISP for service outages.

AT&T WorldNet has apparently made good on its promise to increase network capacity. But its efforts have produced only moderate gains in terms of subscribers. AT&T WorldNet reported it had one million customers in 1997, so its added roughly 500,000 users over the past three years to currently provide Internet access to more than 1.5 million users.

EarthLink, Inc. placed a close second in overall customer satisfaction. According to the report EarthLink performs above industry average in most factors, with particular strengths in customer care and technical support.

Kirk Parsons, J.D. Power and Associates director of telecommunications said the report indicates what issues ISPs need to address in order to keep their customers happy.

"To stay competitive in the U.S. Internet industry, companies must offer a consistent level of service across all drivers of customer satisfaction," Parsons said. "Both AT&T WorldNet and EarthLink clearly meet this requirement."

MSN finished above the industry average for overall consumer satisfaction, just after EarthLink. America Online, Inc., AOL subsidiary CompuServe and Prodigy posted customer satisfaction ratings below the industry average. SBC Communications, Inc. recently took an 85 percent ownership stake in Prodigy

The research firm's customer query among the nation's six largest fee-based ISPs accounts for more than one-half of the residential dial-up users in U.S. The remaining subscribers surveyed comprise a mishmash of small national providers, regional and local telephone companies and cable company-owned ISPs.

According to Parsons, smaller service providers are threatening the market-leading positions of the six-largest fee-based providers because they account for 52 percent of new household subscriptions over the past year. Parsons attributes part of the growth of small providers to consumer demand for high-speed services.

"It is clear that the next battleground among the national and regional ISPs is to attract new customers to their high-speed service," Parsons said.

The study also identified big differences in customer satisfaction between high-speed access and traditional dial-up users. High-speed service subscribers are significantly more satisfied overall with their Internet service than are dial-up users. However, not all high-speed connections perform equally when it comes to satisfying customers.

Specifically, the report holds that cable-modems users expressed higher satisfaction levels overall than either DSL or ISDN subscribers. The advantage of cable modems is primarily due to receiving high marks in content and e-mail ser



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