"This is the sixth year of our survey. Sprint was consistently among the lowest-rated in satisfaction, dropped calls, and customer service," said Rosalind Tordesillas of Consumer Reports.
And AT&T, home of the acclaimed iPhone, had reported problems with static and gaps in service in many of the 20 cities surveyed.
Of more than 47,000 cell phone users, only 45 percent were highly satisfied with their service.
"Among the top complaints were the required contract extensions when you change your phone or plan. But recently, several big carriers have announced plans to eliminate these mandatory contract extensions," said Tordesillas.
Controversial early termination fees are also being reexamined. Several major carriers have agreed to prorate them over the course of the contract.
The survey shows the top reason people switched their cell service carrier in the past three years was poor service. That includes dropped calls and poor coverage. Among the better cell providers in the survey was Verizon Wireless, with better-than-average phone service. Alltel, a smaller provider, also got high marks. And T-Mobile, despite relatively high satisfaction scores in Consumer Reports' survey, had higher-than-average service failure reports in the Los Angeles area.
"If you're looking for a new carrier, your best bet is to start with one that did well in our survey," said Tordesillas.
And Consumer Reports says to take advantage of the 14-to-30-day free trial period offered by carriers. If you find you're not happy with the service, you're free to cancel it without paying fees or penalties.
Consumer Reports says if you're going with a new cell provider, consider a one-year plan. The phone may cost you more, but you'll have the flexibility to change service in a year if you're not happy with it.