Broadband Briefings

Published by NetAction Issue No. 21 July 26, 2001
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DSL Users Less Satisfied With Bells' Service
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DSL Users Less Satisfied With Bells' Service

Prompted by numerous published reports about the problems consumers have experienced with digital subscribe line (DSL) service, NetAction conducted an online survey of broadband users earlier this year to determine the level of satisfaction with DSL service. Overall, we found that DSL users who get service from the incumbent regional Bell monopolies have a higher percentage of complaints than consumers served by competitive DSL providers or cable broadband providers.

Our report on the survey findings was released on July 25, 2001, and is available on our web site at: The survey results appear to support the anecdotal reports about problems.

In general, we found that consumers getting DSL service from a regional Bell company had to wait longer to have service started, were more likely to have been billed before service commenced, and were less satisfied with technical support and customer service than DSL subscribers using competitive providers. This isn't surprising since the Bells effectively control the DSL market.

According to Prof. Yale M. Braunstein of the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley, the regional Bells control about 90% of the nation's residential DSL service. Dr. Braunstein recently published a white paper on "Market Power and Price Increases in the DSL Market." It is available on the web at:

In his paper, Dr. Braunstein argues that the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001, (HR 1542), would discourage the development of a competitive broadband market. Competition is already being restricted by the Bells' business and pricing practices, which include delaying the availability of lines for competitors and charging unreasonably high wholesale prices. Here in California, for example, SBC/PacBell actually charges competitive broadband providers more for wholesale service than consumers pay for retail service.

Is it any wonder that competitive broadband providers are struggling to survive? The lack of competition is also apparent in the recent price hikes in residential DSL service. As Dr. Braunstein observed, "This would not be a rational move in a competitive market."

Although the fate of HR 1542 is uncertain, it's authors -- Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and Rep. John Dingell of Michigan - are not giving up. As long as they continue to work toward freeing the Bells from rules and regulations that were designed to promote increased competition, consumers will need to keep their guard up. Without meaningful competition, the level of consumer dissatisfaction can only increase.

NetAction's report on DSL customer satisfaction is based on a survey of 672 broadband users conducted online in April using a sample obtained from Zoomerang, an online survey clearinghouse. The results were analyzed and interpreted by Dr. Rashmi Sinha, a researcher and lecturer in the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley.

The survey findings are summarized below:

About Broadband Briefings

Broadband Briefings is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction to promote policies that encourage rapid and widespread deployment of high-speed Internet access. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policycmakers, and the media about technology policy issues.

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