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In a move that shouldn't surprise anyone, a survey of 58,000 Consumer Reports readers finds that AT&T (NYSE: T ) is the country's worst wireless carrier.
AT&T was always a questionable juggernaut, but connectivity woes for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone owners and a relentless wave of Verizon Wireless attack ads have clearly dinged Ma Bell's already iffy reputation.
However, it's not as if Verizon Wireless -- a partnership between Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) and Vodafone (NYSE: VOD ) -- can proclaim victory. It was actually bumped from the top of the survey this year by smallish U.S. Cellular (NYSE: USM ) .
U.S. Cellular provides coverage in a little more than half of the states, making the regional carrier an unlikely hero. Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) with its early 4G push or Deutsche Telekom's (OTC BB: DTEGY.PK) T-Mobile with its value proposition would seem to be the more logical candidates to take Verizon Wireless down.
You can just picture the high fives as the wheels turn in U.S. Cellular's marketing department.
It will be an entirely different picture at AT&T, which once again will have to defend its name.
One has to wonder if AT&T's smeared plight would have played out any differently had it not been Apple's exclusive iPhone provider. Its network wouldn't have been bogged down by data-slurping smartphone owners. AT&T wouldn't have warranted raspberries after moving away from unlimited data plans. Verizon Wireless also wouldn't have needed to muddy things up with its "there's a map for that" attack ads. Sure, AT&T would have had to forgo the millions of iPhone users on its network, but the major trade-off there is that it would have been more favorably viewed by consumers if it was simply pushing Androids, BlackBerrys, and more traditional handsets.
We can't go back, though. AT&T is where it is, and improving its network with more cellular towers and making the 4G leap may help paint a new coat over its jagged image by the time next year's Consumer Reports survey makes the rounds.
Between now and then, let's see which AT&T competitor becomes the first to launch a new attack campaign based on the survey.
Will 4G be a game changer for wireless carriers? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.