UK consumers spend £2.6bn a year on broadband, but nearly half are not satisfied with the service they receive, according to the 2009 Broadband Customer Satisfaction Report from comparison site uSwitch.com.
A survey of over 12,000 people identified a rapid decline in brand loyalty to traditional broadband suppliers, which are losing out to younger rivals prepared to deliver on customer service.
The figures suggest that the priorities of many users are now speed, value and service, rather than a well known name. The average bill is now five per cent cheaper, and the average connection speed 18 per cent faster, than 12 months ago.
Some 42 per cent of respondents said that they are not happy with the service they receive, and it is little wonder that the report found the widest ever gap in customer satisfaction levels between the best and worst broadband providers, now at 26 per cent.
O2, which is relatively new to the market, has knocked last year's winner Plusnet off the top spot after achieving the highest ever score for overall customer satisfaction at 92 per cent of its customer base. Helped by its strategic purchase of the Be Broadband network, O2 managed to snap up nine out of the 11 categories, including Best Value for Money, Best Customer Service and Best Speed.
"We are very pleased. We took our time coming to market with O2 home broadband to place the necessary emphasis on getting the customer experience right. We're grateful to our customers for recommending us," said Peter Rampling, marketing director at O2.
At the opposite end of the table, veteran supplier AOL rated bottom and has seen its popularity drop seven per cent over the past year, and 10 per cent since 2007 when it managed to take second place for overall satisfaction.
The ISP has around 1.7 million customers, but a third are not satisfied with its service and fewer than half would recommend the company to a friend.
AOL's decline has spared Orange a fourth run at the bottom of the ranking. Three out 10 of its customers are not satisfied with their overall broadband experience, but it appears that Orange is trying to improve matters and has seen scores rise across a number of areas over the last year, including Overall Satisfaction and Value For Money up five per cent and Customer Service up four per cent.
"Overall, customer satisfaction is up four per cent on last year and we have seen the highest ever score from O2, which is great news for consumers," said Steve Weller, communications expert at uSwitch.com.
"Broadband technology has matured and is now more user-friendly. As well as faster speeds, it's easier to set broadband up in the home, especially for the growing number of customers using wireless routers. As a result, it's now simpler to switch between services.
"Broadband has become such a vital part of people’s lives that, despite the tough economic climate, consumers are willing to pay for a fast speed, reliable connection and good old-fashioned customer service. However, the success story of O2 shows that excellent service does not have to cost the earth."
Weller said that, with a widening satisfaction gap between the best and worst providers, customers should keep close tabs on their personal circumstances and ensure that they are getting the best deal for them. They should also not be afraid to change to another provider that may offer a more suitable package.
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