A Consumer Reports survey of wireless users in the US (subscription required) ranked AT&T dead last among major carriers in terms of quality. Most of the 50,000 people surveyed in 26 cities gave AT&T low ratings in such categories as service availability, circuit capacity, dropped-call frequency, and voice service. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Verizon Wireless - which has been hammering AT&T in its "there's a map for that" ad campaign - came out on top.

The survey results come at a time that industry press is abuzz with reports that AT&T is on the verge of losing its exclusive arrangement to carry the iPhone in the US. Verizon - the #2 carrier in the US in the number of customers - has been widely rumored to be under consideration by Apple, though Verizon's CDMA network is not compatible with the iPhone's current hardware. AppleInsider reported today on speculation by an industry watcher that the iPhone might go to T-Mobile in 2010, which uses GSM technology like AT&T's, though in a different frequency that would require Apple to roll out a slightly modified phone. And even though Qualcomm has announced plans to release a hybrid chip that would enable the iPhone to use both AT&T and Verizon's networks, it's unlikely that it would be available until the end of the year, and would come at a significant cost premium. A phone capable of accessing T-Mobile's UMTS/HSDPA 3G network would presumably be available sooner and at costs comparable to the current line.

A story in the Wall Street Journal's AllThingsDigital detailed Consumer Reports' finding that AT&T had the worst overall consumer satisfaction in 19 of the 26 cities where people were surveyed. Verizon, meanwhile, ranked first in all 26 cities. This is the second time this year that AT&T has gotten slammed in a customer-service survey: in May, the American Customer Satisfaction Index report ranked AT&T third out of the big four U.S. wireless carriers due to "complaints about slow and spotty performance." Verizon won that one, too.

AT&T - perhaps understandably - dismissed the results. When AllThingsDigital contacted the carrier for its response, it had this to say:

We appreciate and value all customer feedback. We learn from it and it helps us serve our customers better. Without question the surest indication of customer satisfaction is churn, or turnover. For the last quarter, our postpaid churn was just 1.17 percent.
It should be interesting to see if this number changes when AT&T is no longer the exclusive iPhone carrier in the US.

image via Consumer Reports