Consumer Reports: AT&T is nation's worst carrier, again

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It’s time once again to play “pin the tail on the least loved mobile carrier.” Consumer Reports’s annual ratings of domestic cell phone networks is out, and at the bottom of the list (or the top, depending on how you look at it) is AT&T.

The survey, based on more than 66,000 Consumer Reports subscribers, covered 22 metropolitan markets and asked customers about their experiences. Of the big four networks, Verizon received the highest satisfaction ratings in texting, data service, and staff knowledge; Sprint followed closely behind; and T-Mobile came after them, but still beat out AT&T. Not only did AT&T come in dead last in the overall rankings, but it also bottomed out in every single city in the survey. The other carriers, meanwhile, took turns in the top spot; Verizon, however, took home the best ranking in more than half of the cities surveyed.

For its part, AT&T argues that it’s made considerable improvement in the past year, and points out that it offers features, such as simultaneous voice and data usage, that its competitors do not. In a statement provided to Macworld, AT&T spokesperson Mari Melguizo said:

While we'll of course evaluate and learn from the Consumer Reports survey, we made significant progress in our network in 2011 including a 25 percent improvement in 3G dropped call performance, 48,000 network improvements (more capacity, new cell sites, faster data speeds, and better connections), and many billions of dollars in capital investment to continue to improve our network. Only AT&T’s network lets the iPhone 4S download three times faster and enables simultaneous talk and surf for all smartphones. And, as customer demand continues to skyrocket, our proposed T-Mobile merger will enable AT&T to improve our customers’ experience even more.

But all four national carriers were outranked by the senior-focused Consumer Cellular, Midwest regional provider U.S. Cellular, and socially responsible operator Credo. U.S. Cellular in particular, scored high marks in all of Consumer Reports’s categories, including voice, texting, data, phone support, staff knowledge, and issues resolved.

Of course, those in the market for an iPhone are a much different situation than the last time Consumer Reports issued its rankings. Last year, they had no choice but to go with AT&T—this year, they can choose instead to give their affections, and their hard-earned cash, to Verizon, Sprint, or regional carrier C-Spire Wireless instead.

Consumer Reports has a contentious history with Apple products. The publication famously refused to recommend the iPhone 4—despite it being the highest rated phone it reviewed—because of reception issues. However, the company has put its seal of approval on the iPhone 4S, saying that the reworked antenna design eliminates those issues.

Updated at 1:27 p.m. Pacific to include a statement from AT&T.

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