Cable extends its Power streak

Another J.D. Power residential telephony customer survey, another cable TV industry knock-out. The results of the J.D. Power 2009 Residential Telephone Customer Satisfaction Study show the winners in all four regions measured to be cable companies (Cox Communications in the East and West; Bright House Networks in the South; WideOpenWest in the North Central).

The closest that traditional telcos came to the top were Cincinnati Bell's second place showing in the North Central Region, and Qwest Communications' second place in the West. Neither AT&T nor Verizon finished second in any of the four regions. And, more than 21,000 residential users take part in the survey, so it is not easy to scoff at the results.

This is the third straight year that all the winners were cable guys. Can we continue to chalk that up to "the grass is always greener on the other side"? Cable TV companies are now firmly entrenched in the residential telephony market. If customers were going to come back to the telcos after having the chance to try someone else's service, they would be coming back by now. Perhaps Cox in particular has finally proven that cable TV companies can offer an affordable telephony product supplemented with the customer care that will keep customers from switching back.

Still, the J.D. Power survey also notes that customer movement between service providers is still increasing, so maybe we have not seen the last of the market re-shaping movements.

Verizon and AT&T both have increased their commitments to broadband VoIP--or at least bundles that include VoIP--within the last year, so maybe we have not heard the last of the big telcos where these customer satisfaction surveys are concerned. While the telcos certainly dislike the negative glare that comes upon them quarterly when they admit how many landline telephone customers they have lost, I have to wonder if they are sort of abdicating their throne by degrees as they become more focused on a different metric--who has the most triple play customers.

Satisfying telephone service expectations is one part of that game, but it is maybe one of the least important parts, whereas the marker for Internet satisfaction keeps moving with every speed upgrade and the TV bar keeps changing with each new high-def channel or DVR feature.

Who knows? If the traditional telcos fall far enough in residential phone customer satisfaction, they may one day achieve underdog status. At that point, they may feel again that they have something to fight for, and customers may have forgotten what they did not like about the old telco so long ago. Everyone loves an underdog.