We have 3,164 customer reviews in our Internet Service Provider category — 1,162 are 1 star.
It’s frustrating for consumers: 50 million U.S. homes have just one 25 mbps service provider, if that. And 48 percent of homes have only one 25 mbps choice. The lack of options and availability has many Americans stuck with a provider they believe is delivering subpar service.
Most categories on our site average around one-third of reviews being 1-star, so the ISP category is slightly above average.
We sampled 124 of these 1-star reviews to see what insights — and warnings — they had for other consumers and the industry itself.
Here’s a summary of our findings. Below, we’ll give our analysis and tips on avoiding your own 1-star experience:
*All reviewers and company names have been removed in the examples below because this study deals with general ISP concerns. If you would like to research a specific company, check out our ISP reviews.
Every industry’s reviews has its quirks. For the ISP category, we noticed a couple interesting trends.
ISP reviews are long, and they have stories to tell.
Reviewers in some other industries might summarize their points more concisely. But for the aggravations of internet companies, many reviewers feel the need to outline their grievances in detail. Frustration A leads to Frustration B, and so on. It becomes a domino effect of bad experiences.
Which leads us to our second interesting finding: One third of 1-star reviewers cited a single negative experience that prompted their review.
A customer might try to solve a service outage, and they’re put on hold for three hours. Or a customer might want a new modem, and they play phone tag for days. These prompt scathing responses on our review site.
This is a compelling data point. Some reviewers even note they were loyal customers for years before the negative experience that prompts their review.
Whatever positive experiences this user might have had to make them stay with the company for eight years, this evaporated with one issue.
Adam Thompson of ReliaSite notes one potential reason for this occurence. “Research has found that it takes 40 positive customer reviews to outweigh a single negative review," he says. "ISPs, by nature, are more likely to generate negative experiences than positive experiences. That’s because your internet service provider is invisible unless/until something goes wrong. . . This makes it nearly impossible for an ISP to generate the needed 40 positive experiences for every 1 negative experience, meaning that they have an overall negative perception.”
Singular negative experiences are less of a concern in categories where users are not locked into a contract or subscription service and where they don’t use a company’s tool on a near-daily basis. For one-off purchases like a logo or hotel, the transaction is often limited to that singular experience, and it’s not unusual if one terrible design or one messy room prompts a bad review.
But if you’re a return customer for well over a year and it turns sour in a day, this highlights how vitriolic a negative interaction is with an internet company. Customer service matters.
61% of 1-star reviews complain of poor customer support
One of the most common complaints across all categories is poor customer service. If you have an issue, you want it resolved as painlessly as possible.
But complaints against ISP customer service are particularly scathing.
It’s a familiar story: a customer plays phone tag with their provider for days, waits on hold for hours, faces a maze of automated phone trees, and eventually reaches a customer service rep who can’t help them.
These sorts of stories are common in internet company reviews.
There are dozens of tools to improve customer service. Users have several options for contacting a company. But has all of this become overwhelming when dealing with internet companies? Are the monopolies on internet service causing call centers and customer support to be overloaded with more users than they can help?
As with most things ISP, there’s only so much you can do on your end to ensure you have a positive experience with your provider. But here are some tips that might get you a helpful customer service rep:
- Read company reviews. Some internet service providers have even worse customer response than others. We have user reviews for dozens of ISPs, categorized by state. See what other customers are saying.
- Test out a company’s support system before you sign a contract. Try contacting a customer service rep. See how long it takes you to get ahold of someone. Check their phone trees. Are they helpful or confusing? Can you call at any time, day or night? What are other options for contacting them, such as text, in-person, or email? If it’s already frustrating to contact them, imagine how irritating it’ll be when you have a time-sensitive issue.
35% of 1-star reviews complain of unreliable connection
Your connection goes in and out, sometimes for hours. Stable internet connection is necessary in today’s world, and it makes sense that this is enough to land ISPs a 1-star review.
And sometimes, it’s truly no one’s fault: you live in a dead zone or there’s interference. But other times, you really should blame your ISP.
Here’s what you can do to reduce spotty connection and prevent a terrible experience with your internet company:
- Make sure the problem isn’t on your end. Americans in general don’t know much about troubleshooting their connectivity issues. Sometimes an intermittent Wi-Fi signal is the fault of a budget router or an overload of devices. Do your own troubleshooting, document what you’ve tried, and take your issue (with evidence!) to your ISP when all else fails. That way, they can’t blame the issue on you if you’ve done your homework.
- Explain the issue as best you can. When is the internet going out? How many people are home? How long does it stay out? Answering these questions can inform the severity of the issue and what measures to take against it.
- If your ISP is still apathetic, try explaining your extenuating circumstances. Let them know if you work from home or if your internet access is essential. If you have competitors in your area that you could take your business to, mention this. Leverage your knowledge to get the solution you need.
27% of 1-star reviews complain of less than advertised speeds
Similar to the issue of unreliable connection, you can have unreliable internet speeds.
It’s normal to get a little less than your advertised speed. Your mbps can vary by connection type (Wi-Fi or wired), channels (2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz), router capabilities, the type of speed test you run, and more.
But if you're only getting almost a third of your advertised speed, even when you test these variables? That’s no good.
Our tips to prevent this issue will be similar to those addressing an unstable connection:
- Do your homework before you take the issue to your ISP. You can test different locations for your router, different devices, and QoS (quality of service) settings. Document your findings. This will save you and your ISP a lot of time when you need to speak with customer service. They won’t have to bore you with the “Have you tried turning your router off and on again?” spiel.
- Explain the competitors' offerings. Does your current company have competitors offering higher speeds? Suggest you will take your business elsewhere. Negotiate a solution to get a quick response.
“In today’s world, where everything can be tailored to what I need, internet service providers are the strongholds refusing to adapt,” Leslie Kiel from Insurantly.com asserts. “Because it’s no longer seen as a commodity but a way of life, we are willing to subject ourselves to outrageous business practices. I played the game for a few years: call in to complain, wait for hours, threaten to cancel my service, and then get a credit to my account. After a while though, I realized I could get the same quality from a lesser-known company.”
- Threaten to cut the cord. Dennis Restauro of Grounded Reason suggests that you can still take control of your situation even if your ISP is the only good provider in the area. Consumers can set a cancellation date for their ISP, not really intending to cancel, and see if the provider will offer a promotional deal, perhaps with higher advertised speeds. “Even if your area lacks competition, this trick may get your current provider to renew your promotional rate,” he suggests. “This is one way consumers can take power back from their ISP.”
26% complain of price transparency and gouging issues; 15% complain of added fees
One in four 1-star reviewers believe their ISPs are price gouging, creating fees not outlined in a contract, or scamming them out of money; 15 percent are unhappy with all the extra fees clogging up their bill.
When you're a company that doesn't have competition, you can set whatever price you please. For the lucky Americans who live in regions with multiple high-profile providers, you have some leverage:
- Negotiate your contract. Know what your competitors are charging for their packages. See if you can bundle services for a lower cost.
- Read your contract, no matter how boring the fine print is. If you want clarity, ask a rep outright what a term from your contract means. Don’t be rushed into any deal without knowing whether there are cancellation fees, equipment fees, or other extra charges. Ensure that any promotional deals you receive over the phone are also obtained in writing.
- In a worst-case scenario, take legal action. Lauren Sliter of Radvocate provided this advice: “Your options as a customer depend on the severity of the case and the fine print in the contract with your ISP. Many companies require you to resolve disputes with them through individual arbitration.”
25% of 1-star reviews complain of missed or unhelpful technician visits
Have you ever called a technician out and wondered why you even bothered to schedule an appointment? Some consumers say their technician never showed up. Sometimes the technician can’t find an issue.
This complaint is in the same vein as poor customer support, but the difference is that these in-home visits are supposed to come to the source of an issue and tackle the problem. Not all industries can come to your home to straighten matters out.
But consumers wish these technicians would spend more time searching for their problem or working to solve it. Many of these techs are on tight schedules and are booked for days or even weeks out. If they have only thirty minutes to address your spotty connection, they might have to come back later. And who knows when “later” may be?
While ISPs should provide more technicians to address consumer complaints, consumers themselves can take a few steps that might lead to a more positive experience with a service tech:
- Be flexible. Most customers will want their techs to visit on weekday evenings or weekends. If there’s any possibility you can be available at another time, take the chance. Openings can be rare, so seize an opportunity.
- Check in with your tech. If you can, call the tech or the representative who sent them to ensure the appointment is still happening. Some customers complain that their tech never showed up, and customer service claimed the appointment had been cancelled.
- Spend time with your tech. Ask them what they think is the issue and see what they do to resolve it. Maybe next time, the problem is something you could fix yourself. Otherwise, you can inform any future techs what the last servicer did to remove the issue.
In the case of negative ISP reviews, there’s often much more at play than the fault of an intemperate customer.
Lack of competition is giving internet service providers leverage over their customers. ISPs have a history of buying out the competition and suing startup companies that threaten their service regions. Some ISPs don’t care that their customer service is bad, their prices are unreasonable, or their connection is spotty. A lack of alternatives will allow them to retain customers.
It might not hurt to try a local company or smaller provider, or it might be best to stick with some of the few major providers with a track record of success. But whatever you do, be aware that your options are limited, and unless high-level change occurs, it’s likely to stay this way. Try to use the tips we've provided to your advantage when resolving a problem with your ISP.