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Virgin satisfies, Plusnet nosedives

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Consumer research out today revealed what Orange and TalkTalk customers already knew: the launch of "free" broadband was botched.

Some 1.5m new customers have come to broadband in the last 10 months with average prices pushed down 17 per cent by increased competition, according to online comparison site uSwitch.

The pioneers of "free" broadband, TalkTalk and Orange, came joint bottom of uSwitch's broadband customer satisfaction survey though. It found overall levels of satisfaction have sunk 9 per cent since it last dipsticked the industry in May.

TalkTalk did top the value for money ratings, despite the fact it is yet to connect tens of thousands of customers it attracted in the brouhaha following the launch of the "free" bundle. The firm was forced to start releasing disgruntled customers from their contracts to avoid further poisoning the brand.

Orange, meanwhile, has suffered repeated large-scale and lengthy outages on its network. See here and here.

uSwitch head of communications services Steve Weller said: "It's disappointing to see that the majority of providers are failing to accompany the growth in customer numbers by sufficient growth in customer service operations and the required investment in technology."

And he should know. At Orange, Weller was responsible for the launch of "free" Orange broadband after it rebranded ISP Wanadoo. He told The Register while protestations from TalkTalk and Orange say their performance is continually improving (see here for TalkTalk boss Charles Dunstone's latest blog on his firm's problems), on the ground customers were still not happy.

Vodafone will be arriving late to the bundle party in the new year, but has eschewed a "free" play in favour of throwing free technical support into the £25 cost.

Vodafone's soon-to-be mobile operator rivals Telewest netted a clutch of first places for quality of connection, customer services, billing, and tech support. NTL customers, coughing up to the same shareholders, were still being subjected to some of the worst service, finishing up eighth out of 10 for overall satisfaction.

Virgin.net punters, currently enjoying highest overall satisfaction, according to the uSwitch survey, can look forward to being assimilated into a single customer service organ when the three are integrated as part of the Virgin rebranding of NTL:Telewest next year.

In the rapidly-consolidating mid-sized ISP field, Plusnet, once highly regarded, suffers worst in the customer satisfaction ratings compared to last time round. The Sheffield-based outfit's score nosedived 16 per cent on the back of a series of technical cock-ups and customer service gaffes reported on The Register. See here, here and here for an introduction. Plusnet topped the twice-yearly uSwitch survey only in May. The ISP's front end still trumpets the coup.

The uSwitch online YouGov survey polled 11,205 UK broadband punters. ®

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