Verizon Wireless
Verizon Wireless will purchase spectrum licenses from Cox Communications, according to an agreement announced Friday. Reuters

Consumer Reports' latest ratings survey of cell phone carriers revealed that Verizon Wireless scored the highest satisfaction score out of the four major U.S. service providers, followed closely by Sprint and T-Mobile USA. AT&T was at the very bottom of the list for the second year in a row.

Consumer Reports surveyed more than 66,000 of its subscribers, asking users about their cell phone service and any customer support-related experiences with their providers, whether or not they were contracted. The very best carrier in overall satisfaction ended up being a small mobile virtual network operator (MNVO) called Consumer Cellular, which leverages AT&T's network and focuses almost exclusively on senior citizens.

Our survey indicates that subscribers to prepaid and smaller standard-service providers are happiest overall with their cell-phone service, said Consumer Reports' electronics editor Paul Reynolds. However, these carriers aren't for everyone. Some are only regional, and prepaid carriers tend to offer few or no smart phones.

The big four providers - Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile - were beat out by two more MNVOs, including regional carrier U.S. Cellular, which was the second highest-ranked service provider after Consumer Cellular, and Credo Mobile, which uses Springt's network and donates to several progressive non-profit organizations.

The major carriers are still leading options for many consumers, and we found they ranged widely in how well they satisfied their customers, Reynolds said.

Verizon Wireless bested the other three major carriers, earning particularly high grades for texting and data service. Sprint and T-Mobile followed closely behind Verizon, but all three companies' overall scores were lower than their figures from last year.

While AT&T's satisfaction score in 2011 wasn't as bad as its score from 2010, the Dallas-based cell phone provider, which recently discontinued its bid to acquire its better rival T-Mobile, still ranked at the bottom of the pack. Last year, AT&T was the only carrier for the Apple iPhone, but still managed to receive the lowest scores. The company issued a statement in response.

We take this seriously and we continually look for new ways to improve the customer experience, it said. Hard data from independent drive tests confirms AT&T has the nation's fastest mobile broadband network with our nearest competitor 20 percent slower on average nationwide and our largest competitor 60 percent slower on average nationwide. 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.

AT&T boasts more than 100 million subscribers, adding 2.1 million customers in the third quarter alone, but the company continues to be a bottom-feeder when it comes to keeping customers happy. The company is notorious for its dead zones and dropped calls, which was partially why AT&T wanted to buy T-Mobile in the first place. A separate J.D. Power and Associates customer care survey gave AT&T its lowest score, with Verizon Wireless similarly taking the top score.

Consumer Reports says Verizon Wireless, which touts the nation's largest 3G network, has been the clear top provider in our Ratings in most years since 2003.