Customers of the largest cable TV providers are upset about how much they pay and the service they receive, explaining part of the growing wave of cord cutting, according to a new survey by Consumer Reports.
Comcast, Charter Communications' Spectrum, and Cox Communications all received low marks from customers on value and customer service. But some less widely available providers scored much higher, including Google Fiber and EPB Fiber, the municipal-run service in Chattanooga, Tenn. that received the top overall marks in the industry.
"Though consumer dissatisfaction with their cable companies has been simmering for quite some time, it's now starting to boil over in terms of actual cord-cutting from traditional pay TV providers," Jim Willcox, senior electronics editor at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. "The good news is that there are now more alternatives, so it's possible for consumers to get the shows and movies they want, often at a lower price than a traditional pay TV plan."
The trend of cord cutting, which is when pay TV customers drop service, has been accelerating. In the first quarter, a record 782,000 customers pulled the plug on cable subscriptions, according to research firm MoffettNathanson. Including people who never subscribed in the first place, analysts say more than 20 million households are now outside of the cable ecosystem. Cable companies have been trying to fight back with offers for fewer channels at a lower price, but such so-called skinny bundles haven't made much headway yet.
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The Consumer Reports survey data, which is similar to what other research has found, helps explain why. Comcast (cmcsa), the largest cable provider, ranked No. 27 out of 32 providers on overall marks, dragged down by the lowest ratings on a five-point-scale from consumers for value, channel selection, technical support, customer service and free video on demand offerings. Charter's (chtr) newly acquired Time Warner Cable customers ranked the company No. 28 while its longer-time customers ranked the company No. 24.
At the top of the rankings was Chattanooga's EPB. It got top marks for equipment and reliability and also was well rated for value and channel selection. Second-ranked Google (googl) got highest marks for reliability, channel selection, technical support, and equipment.
Couch potatoes who want to avoid cable have more choices than ever before, Consumer Reports noted. Companies like AT&T (t), Dish Network (dish), and Sony (sne) are offering bundles of cable channels over the Internet and via apps for less money than a standard cable package. And Netflix (nflx), Amazon (amzn), and Hulu have pioneered the binge-watching, video streaming market. There are now at least six ways to watch HBO, the magazine noted, ranging from a traditional cable plan, to the company's $15-per-month app-based plan called HBO Now to buying specific shows via iTunes or the Google Play store.
"The good news is that there are now more alternatives, so it's possible for consumers to get the shows and movies they want, often at a lower price than a traditional pay TV plan," Consumer Reports' Willcox said.
Top Five Cable TV Providers
1. EPB Fiber
2. Google Fiber
3. Armstrong Cable
4. Consolidated Cable
5. RCN Cable
Bottom Five Cable TV Providers
28. Spectrum (Time Warner) Cable
29. Cable One Cable
30. Atlantic Broadband Cable
31. Frontier Fiber
32. Mediacom Cable
Source: Consumer Reports