The advent of "free broadband" has caused customer satisfaction levels to plummet by up to 16 percent in only six months, despite prices falling by up to 17 percent.
A new report by product comparison site uSwitch shows that, while internet service providers (ISPs) such as Orange and Carphone Warehouse offer the best "value for money" in broadband access, they also come joint bottom of the league in terms of customer service. One in three of each service's customers were identified as not satisfied. The top spot went to Virgin.net with 85 percent satisfaction, and BT managed the only rise in customer satisfaction, up one percentage point.
Noting a "broadband land grab" since "free broadband" was introduced seven months ago — there have been 650,000 new subscribers since March — uSwitch's Steve Weller said on Monday that it was "disappointing to see that the majority of providers are failing to accompany the growth in customer numbers by sufficient growth in customer service operations and the required investment in their technology to ensure that they are looking after customer needs in an acceptable manner".
The biggest drop in broadband customer satisfaction was suffered by Plusnet which, despite recent praise for its newly transparent approach to keeping customers informed of any problems, accidentally lost 700GB of its customers' emails in July. As a result, its 92 percent satisfaction rate in March dropped to 76 percent by October.
Carphone Warehouse's TalkTalk service also lost its top ranking for home phone customer satisfaction following its "free broadband forever" customer service "nightmare", the survey suggested. That top position has now been taken by Tiscali, although satisfaction among both providers' customers fell since March, by 9 and 7 percent respectively.
"It's clear that Tiscali and TalkTalk phone customers are becoming 'bundle victims'," said Weller. "In TalkTalk's case only 53 percent of their phone customers are happy with the level of customer service that they are receiving, compared to 63 percent six months ago".
The worst performers in home phone customer satisfaction were, for the third time running, BT and NTL. "With a loss of 54,600 customers reported by NTL and 380,000 reported by BT in the last quarter alone, it is evident that customers are voting with their feet," the survey noted.
The uSwitch report was based on a survey of more than 50,000 customers over the last year.