Hey Bay Area, your choices for broadband service are between bad and worse

Congratulations, Bay Area residents! According to Consumer Reports, your telecommunications options are largely a choice between bad and worse. But then, you might have already known that.

In its May issue, Consumer Reports magazine rated several dozen different providers of Internet, telephone and pay television services from around the nation. Comcast and AT&T, the two most prominent providers of such services in the Bay Area, fared poorly.

For Internet service, AT&T’s U-verse service ranked 14th out of 34 providers, while it’s mobile and DSL offerings ranked 29th and 30th. Comcast, meanwhile, ranked 26th in the report, which was based on a survey of some 84,000 Consumer Reports readers. Of the five different criteria on which the services were rated — value, reliability, speed, phone or online support and in-home support — the only one on which U-verse rated above average was on reliability. For Comcast, the only thing it seemed to excel at was speed.

The story was similar in the rankings of TV services. Consumer Reports ranked U-verse 8th out of 17; it ranked Comcast 14th. Readers gave U-verse’s TV service above average ratings for picture, channel selection and sound. Comcast was judged to be fair at best and often below average on all 8 of the criteria on which readers rated the TV services.

In terms of home phone service, U-verse ranked 15th out of 25, while Comcast ranked 19th. AT&T’s legacy telephone service ranked second-to-last. All three service options were judged by readers to have relatively poor value and to offer below average customer support or worse.

Only on bundled services did either company’s offerings fare better than the middle of the pack. Consumer Reports ranked U-verse’s triple-play offering ranked 5th out of 15 and Comcast’s 8th. AT&T’s triple-play offering that combines its phone and DSL service with satellite TV service from another provider ranked 15th out of 16.

But even U-verse’s relatively high ranking in the triple-play category said more about how poorly its competitors were rated by readers than how highly they valued its service. U-verse’s rating score was 66 out of 100, and readers thought it didn’t rate above average on any the 6 criteria on which they evaluated such services.

Topping the ratings for Internet service, pay TV and triple play offerings were WOW, a small broadband provider in the Midwest, and Verizon’s FiOS service. Both also were ranked highly for the telephone service, though the top ranked provider in that category was Ooma, a voice over Internet Protocol company based in Palo Alto.

Fortunately, Bay Area consumers do have some better choices available to them. Ooma and Vonage, each of which ranked in the top 5 for phone service, are available to broadband Internet subscribers nationwide. Satellite providers Dish Network and DirecTV, which both ranked in the top 5 for television service, are widely available in the Bay Area.

On the Internet side, though, U-verse is as good as it gets in the Bay Area, at least according to Consumer Reports. However, the magazine didn’t rate Sonic.net, Etheric or MegaPath, all of which offer Internet access in parts of the Bay Area.

As I reported in my Tech Files column and here on SiliconBeat, I switched my triple play provider from Comcast to AT&T last year. After having some time to consider both, I wouldn’t rate either one a home run.

Comcast’s Internet service was great; both super-fast and reliable. But it’s television service was expensive and offered few channels. And it’s DVR was terrible.

U-verse, by contrast, has a very good DVR and a pretty good TV service. And it’s a better value than Comcast. But its Internet service is noticeable slower than Comcast’s.

I’d love to marry U-verse’s TV service with Comcast’s Internet service. But I’m afraid the cost would be prohibitive. Too bad we don’t have FiOS or WOW for an option.

(Photo courtesy of AT&T.)


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  • Scott Gilbert

    DIRECTV with their HD DVR Genie service coupled with cable modem service. Probably the best reliable and quality value there is for a family who is invested in entertainment.

  • SR

    Thanks! After going thru your article I am still unclear as to which one to choose. I already knew the info you blogged. 🙁

  • SLR

    AT&T has sucker rates then raise their prices. AT&T sucks.

  • Cody James Miller

    Hi Troy,

    thanks for the informative article. There are however some ISPs which deliver great service to large sections, and even entire coverage, to the Bay Area;

    – MonkeyBrains (wireless)
    – Webpass (wireless)
    – Fastmetrics (wireless, fiber, broadband, phones)

    All of these ISPs have 4.5 star ratings on Yelp.

    Granted, they don’t do TV service, but it’s nice to know there’s more on offer than AT&T and Comcast when it comes to Internet service in the Bay Area.

  • Sandy Mitchlen

    Another option that my mother swears by is Etheric Networks (Wireless). She prefers working with small companies that offer great customer support.

  • T. Ismael

    I’m extremely dissatisfied with Comcast customer service (if they have such a thing) and am looking for broadband internet service only in Palo Alto, CA. Not interested in DSL. Fastmetrics listed below only offers services to businesses. Are there any alternatives available?

    • howard

      Interesting and good article. Internet with At and t has been soooo problematic, and this is my main CONCERN. As such, I might go with Comcast when i move to private home in few months. when my internet line works…it is fine. most of the time nothing loads or is on and off. I hit mouse with ton of bricks to get gmail then it doesnt load, then it does. and this is on the so called ,”highest ‘ speed for my apt complex in Napa Ca. Everyone hates comcast. Yes….but as you describe the comcast isp being faster.for sure…it will be worth the try, especially as i have a personal new modem i bought that at and t would not let me use…we shall see