For the second time in three years the municipally owned and operated ISP in Chattanooga got the highest ranking in the annual Consumer Reports survey about ISPs. They were the only ISP in the survey that received a positive ranking for value. This is a testament to the fact that consumers love independent ISPs compared to the big ISPs like Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon.
Chattanooga’s EPB makes it into the ranking due to their size, but there are numerous other small ISPs offering an alternative to the big companies. There are about 150 other municipal ISPs around the country providing residential ISP service and many more serving their local business communities. There are numerous cooperatives that provide broadband – many of these are historically telecom cooperatives with the ranks recently growing as electric cooperatives become ISPs. There are hundreds of independent telephone companies serving smaller markets. There is also a growing industry of small commercial ISPs who are building fiber or rural wireless networks.
As somebody who works with small ISPs every day it’s not hard to understand why consumers love them.
- Real customer service. People dread having to call the big ISPs. They know when they call that the person that answers the phone will be reading from a script and that every call turns into a sales pitch. It’s the negative customer service experience that drives consumers to rank big ISPs at the bottom among all other corporations. Small ISPs tend to have genuine, non-scripted service reps that can accurately answer questions and instantly resolve issues.
- Transparent pricing. Most big ISPs have raised rates significantly in recent years by the introduction of hidden fees and charges. People find it annoying when they see broadband advertised in their market as costing $49.99 when they know they are paying far more than that. Smaller ISPs mostly bill what they advertise and don’t disguise their actual prices. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons that consumers in Chattanooga feel like they are getting a value for their payment.
- No negotiations on prices. Big ISPs make customers call every few years and negotiate for lower prices. It’s obvious why they do this because there are many customers who won’t run the gauntlet and end up paying high prices just to avoid making that call. The big ISPs probably think that customers feel like they got a bargain after each negotiation – but customers almost universally hate the process. The ISP triple play and cellular service are the only two common commodities that put consumers through such a dreadful process. Most small ISPs charge their published prices and consumers love the simplicity and honesty.
- Quality networks. The big ISPs clearly take short cuts on maintenance, and it shows. Big ISPs have more frequent network outages – my broadband connection from Charter goes out for short periods at least a dozen times a week. Small ISPs work hard to have quality networks. Small ISPs do the needed routine maintenance and spend money to create redundancy to limit and shorten outages.
- Responsive repair times. The big ISPs, particularly in smaller markets can take seemingly forever to fix problems. Most of us now are reliant on broadband in our daily routine and nobody wants to wait a few days to see a repair technician. Most of my small ISP clients won’t end a work day until open customer problems are resolved.
- Fast resolution of problems. Big ISPs are not good at dealing with things like billing disputes. If a customer can’t resolve something on a first call with a big ISP they have to start all over from the beginning the next time they call. Small ISPs tend to resolve issues quickly and efficiently.
- Privacy. The big ISPs are all harvesting data from customers to use for advertising and to monetize in general. ISPs, by definition can see most of what we do online. Small ISPs don’t track customers and are not collecting or selling their data.
- Small ISPs are local. Their staff lives and works in the area and they know where a customer lives when they call. It’s common when calling a big ISP to be talking to somebody in another state or country who has no idea about the local network. Small ISPs keep profits in the community and generally are a big part of local civic life. Big ISPs might swoop in occasionally and give a big check to a local charity, but then disappear again for many years.
- Big ISPs are really the Devil. Not really, but when I see how people rank the big ISPs – below banks, insurance companies, airlines and even the IRS – I might be onto something!
Big ISPs are also lobbying for carte blanche to violate customers’ privacy.