WOW! Quality Counts as Broadband Overtakes Dial-Up

Published November 1, 2006

Move over, AT&T. Stand aside, Road Runners. WideOpenWest! (WOW!) ranks highest in satisfying high-speed Internet customers, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 Internet Service Provider Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, released in late September.

The study, now in its ninth year, measures customer satisfaction with ISPs on seven factors, including performance and reliability, cost of service, and technical/customer support. WOW! took the highest honors in six of the categories; Bright House Network’s Road Runner and BellSouth took second and third places in the overall high speed rankings.

The study shows a tough competitive environment for high-speed ISPs. DSL subscribers are “significantly more satisfied” than cable modem users, mainly because of price: The telephone companies are offering better rates than the cable companies.

High-speed ISPs are fighting over growing numbers of customers. For the first time, the market share of high-speed Internet services overtook that of dial-up providers, 56 percent versus 44 percent respectively. That’s an 11 point increase for high-speed access and a corresponding drop of 11 points for dial-up from last year.

Intent to switch service providers among dial-up customers has increased three percentage points, from 18 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2006.

While customers are willing to pay around $42 a month for high-speed access, compared to about $18.50 for dial-up, the study indicates the high-speed customers are demanding more from their service providers, including bundled services at discounted prices and incentives that reward their loyalty.

That may help explain why, even though it is more expensive than DSL, cable modem penetration continues to climb, with 32 percent of the market vs. 23 percent for DSL (compared to 28 percent and 16 percent last year, respectively).

In other results, the study found 79 percent of households subscribe to an ISP, up 9 percentage points from 2005. High-speed subscribers spend an average of 22.6 personal hours per week on the Internet; dial-up users average 22.2 personal hours per week. Data transfer speed is particularly important to both groups.

Sharon J. Watson ([email protected]) is a freelance writer.