AT&T Inc. came in dead last among major carriers in a customer satisfaction survey, hitting its lowest point since shortly before it began selling the iPhone in 2007.
In terms of making customers happy, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. tied for the top spot among the most popular U.S. carriers, according to the report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
T-Mobile USA, which AT&T is in the process of buying, came in third, falling to a five-year low in the ACSI's survey.
Verizon has been the nation's leader in customer satisfaction for the last six years, but a drop of 1% in its ACSI score left it even with Sprint for the first time.
Sprint has been on an upward trend, "rising 3% following consecutive double-digit gains," the indexing group said.
"In just three years, Sprint has emerged from 15 points below even the second worst in the category to claim a share of the industry lead," the ACSI said.
AT&T's survey score fell 4% this year, "its worst score since 2006 — the year before the launch of the iPhone," the ACSI said.
With AT&T buying T-Mobile — a move that rival Sprint and a number of U.S. senators oppose — it's unclear how the combined companies would do in terms of customer satisfaction, said Claes Fornell, a University of Michigan professor who founded the ACSI.
"It is common to find a reduction in customer satisfaction after mergers, but it is rare for customer satisfaction to drop ahead of a merger," Fornell said in a statement. "Assuming the deal is approved, it remains to be seen if a much larger AT&T can regain the strength of its customer relationships."