Ina Fried

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Consumer Reports Survey Again Dings AT&T, Praises Verizon

Newsstand browsers will be forgiven if they pick up the January issue of Consumer Reports and aren’t sure if they have a new issue or an old one.

Once again, the magazine has found that, when it comes to the national wireless carriers, consumers are most satisfied with Verizon and least so with AT&T.

Potentially more interesting was that the annual survey found that three smaller carriers — U.S. Cellular, Credo and Consumer Cellular — all scored higher than any of the Big 4 wireless providers. Several prepaid brands, including TracFone and Straight Talk, also scored higher than the big brands.

“Our survey indicates that subscribers to prepaid and smaller standard-service providers are happiest overall with their cell-phone service,” Consumer Reports electronics editor Paul Reynolds said in a blog posting. “However, these carriers aren’t for everyone. Some are only regional, and prepaid carriers tend to offer few or no smart phones.The major carriers are still leading options for many consumers, and we found they ranged widely in how well they satisfied their customers.”

Also notable was the fact that the national carriers achieved higher scores for their prepaid service than they did among their traditional contract-based customers.

The magazine also called out new “value” pricing plans from T-Mobile which allow even contract customers to get their phones unsubsidized in exchange for a lower fee. Though the plans are a bit hard to wrap one’s head around, they can be money savers over time.

Update: AT&T said it will use the survey as a learning opportunity, but stressed the investments the company has been making.

“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 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,” the company said in a statement to AllThingsD. AT&T also contends that its service would benefit further if it were allowed to buy T-Mobile, a deal that has been opposed by U.S. regulators.

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