You could call it a bad signal to the market.

Consumer Reports has rated AT&T the worst cellular service provider in the country, at a time when the company is girding itself to compete for Apple's iPhone and the droves of subscribers that come with it. AT&T currently carries the iPhone exclusively but likely won't for long; as The Wall Street Journal reports, Apple is currently making a version of the iPhone for Verizon Wireless. AT&T has been on a mission of late to improve its service and polish its image, increasing spending on its wireless network by $2 billion this year.

AT&T's rating, which included the lowest possible ranking in eight of nine performance and customer service categories, was based on a survey of 58,000 readers. Verizon finished second among cellphone carriers behind U.S. Cellular, a small regional outfit. For many tech writers, the news is further evidence that the nation's "fastest mobile broadband network" is neither fast nor much of a network:

  • AT&T Should Shape Up or Unload Its Wireless Business, says Jonathan Berr at 24/7 Wall St.: "The company cannot afford more screw-ups ... Fed up with lousy service, many AT&T customers would be eager to bolt" to Verizon next year.
  • Study Contradicts Claims That AT&T's Troubles Are Limited to New York City, San Francisco, points out the Electronista staff, noting that the carrier also scored lowest in cities like Denver, Detroit, and Houston.
  • This Raises A Chicken Or Egg Question, observes Seth Weintraub at 9 to 5 Mac: "Is AT&T's network so bad because it is the sole supplier of the data-hungry iPhone? Or the flip side: How insane is it that the iPhone has had the kind of success it has had only being available on the nation's worst network."
  • Apple Is Itching to Partner With Verizon, imagines Dan Moren at Macworld: "While Apple has publicly been supportive of its carrier partner, it wouldn't be surprising in the least to find that privately it can't wait to dump the albatross around the neck of its star product."
  • We Take This Seriously and Will Continue Improving The Customer Experience, stresses AT&T in a statement:
The fact is wireless customers have choices and a record number of them chose AT&T in the third quarter, significantly more than our competitors. Hard data from independent drive tests confirms AT&T has the nation's fastest mobile broadband network ... And, our dropped call rate is within 1/10 of a percent--the equivalent of just one call in a thousand--of the industry leader.
  • You Better Be Taking This Report Seriously, AT&T, admonishes Marc at IntoMobile:
Sure, a record number of subscribers chose AT&T in the third quarter, but the carrier also had record iPhone sales, too. It's also difficult to convince users that your network offers the fastest mobile broadband speeds when coverage is spotty ... Perhaps it's also true that AT&T is the leader in dropped call rates, but the experience varies dramatically by location."