Cox Communications, which historically has beaten cable peers in customer satisfaction, saw its rating drop 6% in the past year on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey.
Meanwhile, Verizon Communications' FiOS TV gained 3% to an all-time pay-TV industry high of 74 on a 100-point scale. Dish Network climbed 3% to 69 to hold second place, followed by AT&T's U-verse TV at 68 (unchanged). DirecTV slipped 1% to 68, according to ACSI.
The four MSOs tracked by ASCI -- Cox, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications -- once again trailed satellite and telco TV, consistent with their performance in past years.
On the 2012 survey, Cox dropped to 63 (down from 67 last year), with ACSI founder Claes Fornell citing the MSO's higher rates for the drop in customer satisfaction. Last year, Cox beat the three other cable companies measured by ACSI by 8 points.
Time Warner Cable tied Cox with a score of 63 -- up 7% year over year -- while Comcast gained 3% to 61 and Charter Communications stood alone in last place at 59 (unchanged).
Overall, the pay-TV industry "continues to underwhelm consumers," Fornell said, with a sector score of 66 for a third year in a row. Among the 47 industries ACSI tracks, only newspapers (64) and airlines (65) are less satisfying than subscription TV.
"While the range of services offered by the industry is larger than ever, reliability and cost are hurdles along the path to higher customer satisfaction," Fornell said in announcing the annual results. "Service providers need to improve reliability without upping prices, which may be a tough balancing act in an economy where the monthly cost of TV service can rival that of energy utilities."
Meanwhile, customer satisfaction on wireline phone service fell below wireless services the first time in ACSI history. Fixed-line telephone services dropped 4.1% to 70, in a tie with wireless.
On wireline phone, CenturyLink had the largest decline of the five companies tracked in the sector, falling 6% to an industry low of 66 after its acquisition of Qwest Communications. Comcast fell 3% to 67, while AT&T and Verizon turned in scores of 70 and Cox dropped 1.4% to 71.
Across all industries, the ACSI aggregate satisfaction was up 0.1% to 75.9 in the first quarter of 2012, following gains in four of the last five quarters of measurement. The increase stems from gains in the energy utility and health care sectors that more than offset a 0.6% decline for the information sector, according to ACSI.
The ACSI uses data from interviews with about 70,000 customers annually, measuring customer satisfaction for more than 225 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index was founded at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. It was spun out as standalone research company ACSI LLC in 2009.