J.D. Power Ranks MindSpring No. 1

According to J.D. Power and Associates, MindSpring Enterprises Inc. ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction among the largest national Internet service providers.

In the 1999 National ISP Online Residential Customer Satisfaction Study released this week, MindSpring’s consumer-leading position was the result of above average scores on all factors surveyed.

The survey polled online consumers about their satisfaction with their ISP’s fees and billing services, connection speeds, service availability, customer care and technical support, e-mail services and ease of navigation with access to other portals.

The top seven ISPs highlighted individually in the study account for well over one-half of residential ISP subscriptions in the United States. EarthLink Network Inc. (ELNK) ranked second in overall customer satisfaction, followed by AT&T WorldNet, and Microsoft Corp.’s (MSFT) MSN services.

America Online, Inc., (AOL), AOL’s CompuServe Interactive Services Inc., and Prodigy Communications Corp. (PRGY) each rated below the industry average in customer satisfaction.

On average, subscribers surveyed reported that they have used their ISP for just over two years and usually spend about 16 hours a week online. About 69 percent of the respondents reported that they used their ISP access to surf the Web, while 67 percent reported that sending and receiving e-mail was their most frequent online activity.

Four out of five ISP subscribers say they have made at least one purchase online, with 31 percent indicating they make at least one purchase per month online. More than one-half of the online subscribers say they prefer a particular search engine, browser or portal site to research purchases. When asked to list their top preferences, Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) was cited as their cited most frequently used search portal, followed by Excite Inc. (XCIT)

Approximately 12 percent of Internet users indicate a strong desire to switch ISPs in the next 12 months, and an additional 22 percent say they might consider a switch at some point. According to the study, MindSpring’s (MSPG) customers are the least likely to consider switching to another service provider.

More than 80 percent of consumers surveyed said that connection speed was the most crucial factor in determining whether a customer desires to switch ISPs. Service fees are the second critical factor consumers use to determine when it’s time to change their online services.

Surprisingly, less than one-half of respondents mention customer service, technical support or content issues as critical motivations behind switching service providers.

With speed dominating the motivation for switching ISPs, J.D. Power’s analysts anticipates that high-speed services like cable modem access and Digital Subscriber Line services will motivate consumer’s migration to new service providers. Nearly 20 percent of current subscribers to dial-up Internet services indicate a strong willingness to subscribe to high-speed service either through a cable modem or a high-speed service offered by their local telephone provider.

Joan Barten Kline, J.D. Power and Associates’ director of research and operations for the telecommunications services, said that offering high-speed access is the key to an ISPs ability to maintain current subscribers and recruit new customers.

“The cable companies have yet to gain a serious foothold in the ISP market,” Kline said. “In the meantime, local providers are putting more resources toward rolling out digital subscriber line service to their current customers, and the top ISPs are pursuing this as an enhancement to current dial-up service. Being the gatekeeper to high-speed access will be vital.”

Market penetration and share results are derived from the 1998 and 1999 J.D. Power and Associates Residential Wireline studies. All other results are from the 1999 Online Study of ISPs and reflect the responses of 3,489 households nationwide.

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