The Industry

The Public Loves Fiber

The latest Customer Satisfaction Index is out from ACSI, which measures the public satisfaction of a wide range of U.S. industries and institutions. The survey this year continued to show that the public has a poor opinion of ISPs. As a group, ISPs had an average ACSI annual rating of 68. The only industry with a lower rating is gas stations at 65. Subscription TV had an average rating of 69, and the U.S. Post Office had a rating of 70.

But there is some interesting good news for some ISPs. Companies serving customers with fiber rated higher with the public than other ISPs, including cable companies using coaxial networks. Consider the following table that shows the 2023 ranking for fiber and non-fiber ISPs.

Fiber Non-Fiber
Altice 58
AT&T 80 72
Cable One 71
CenturyLink 78 62
Charter 64
Comcast 73 68
Cox 64
Frontier 74 61
Google Fiber 76
Mediacom 65
T-Mobile 73
Verizon 75
Windstream 70

For companies that offer both fiber and another technology, customers served by fiber liked an ISP more than non-fiber customers. CenturyLink has the biggest difference in satisfaction (78 for fiber and 62 for non-fiber). Frontier also has a dramatic difference (74 fiber and 61 non-fiber). The only cable company ranked for both technologies also has a sizeable difference, and Comcast has a ranking of 73 for its fiber network versus 68 for the coaxial network.

Customer satisfaction involves many other factors than just technology, but the differences for the companies that offer multiple technologies have to be mostly related to fiber. However, there are other factors in play. For example, it seems likely that CenturyLink and Frontier provide better customer service and faster repairs for fiber customers than for DSL customers.

Cable companies have to be noticing this giant difference as part of any consideration of how to upgrade their networks. The big cable companies are all at the beginning of the upgrades to improve upload speeds on coaxial networks, and they must be hoping that customers like them more after the upgrades. But there is a chance that the public has come to think of fiber as a superior technology and will not rank a coaxial system as highly even after speed increases. There is still a noticeable difference in latency and jitter between cable and fiber networks, and customers who see both in action believe fiber is better.

There is still a noticeable range of ISP rankings within each list. Non-fiber customers rate T-Mobile and AT&T the highest and rank Altice and Frontier DSL as the worst ISPs. It’s interesting to see Charter near the bottom of the rankings.

Fiber customers clearly rate AT&T as the best and Comcast Fiber as the lowest. Fiber technical performance should be consistent regardless of the ISP, so the difference in rankings between fiber providers has to be related to customer service and the other non-technical aspects of being an ISP.

One reply on “The Public Loves Fiber”

I think it’s important not to draw too narrow of conclusions.

Much of the nation that has fiber to the home is essentially on brand new government funded infrastructer. The paint isn’t even dry yet.

The differences in the incumbants is often that they were on aging 3-7Mbps DSL and moved way up to hundreds of Mbps with lower base latency and less congestion. That would suggest fewer service complaint calls were needed etc which could account for the large gulf. What I’m suggesting here is that by not having to call in as often, the poor customer service ratings don’t hit the satisfaction numbers as hard. To me it’s surprising that the difference here isn’t larger.

Charter is running LOTS of old infrastructure and high DL/UL ratios in many areas. Customers don’t really need huge uploads, but they do notice the huge ratio offered, often >10:1. That’s really an issue across the ‘docsis’ world.

The big providers have been especially bad about customer service for years. There’s nothing in the tech that will fix that, even fiber to the home couldn’t get Comcast over 73%.

Still though, ISPs are often taking the blame for other issues.

Cheap/junk wifi routers in homes are still prevelent. ISPs are slowing moving to fully managed routers and wifi to combat this.

Internet connectivity itself has moved to a hub and spoke model with providers trunking services to large internet exchanges and being ‘less connected’. It’s often the case that a route between two neighbors on two different providers will be 12-20 hops and leave the city. I run redundant connections for home office and it’s 18 hops from my Spectrum Coax to my CenturyLink DSL, 65ms average latency. When it comes to people doing zoom calls or playing p2p games that’s a real issue.

IMO, the first step in a real fix for this is for the government to devise a plan to create many more internet exchanges and leverage access to public right of ways to put providers in them.

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