No matter which wireless carrier consumers use, a survey shows few are happy with their service. Consumer Reports' annual cell phone survey shows that consumers experienced chronic, major problems with service, billing, and complaint handling with every national cell phone company.

The survey, conducted last September and based on the experiences of over 39,000 ConsumerReports.org subscribers in 17 cities, indicates that overall levels of satisfaction for wireless service remain lower than for most other services that Consumer Reports rates.

The report also shows that the overall satisfaction index has only nudged one point, from 65 to 66 points, since the annual survey was begun three years ago.

Although Verizon topped Consumer Reports' Ratings in each city, as it did in the previous two surveys, it wasn't problem-free. And in 10 cities it wasn't ahead of the pack in a statistically meaningful way. In most of the 17 cities, T-Mobile came in a close second. Some other highlights from the survey:

• Thirty-five percent of respondents were seriously considering a switch of carrier. Most of those who had already switched said they were after better service.
• Nearly 70 percent of those who use a cell phone frequently had at least one dropped call in the week before the survey. Nearly 60 percent said they had a bad connection.
• Only 40 percent said the company's response to a billing inquiry was very helpful.
• Only 31 percent said the company's response to a service inquiry was very helpful.

"Our survey findings are particularly troubling in the context of the recent spate of mergers within the wireless industry, which we believe will lead to decreased competition and increased prices," said Jim Guest, President of Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

"Consolidation is not a panacea to the service and customer satisfaction problems that continue to plague the industry. In the case of the Cingular and AT&T merger, both companies had problems with overloaded circuits. We don't see how a merger could improve that."

For the first time ever, Consumer Reports asked subscribers about their shopping experiences. Respondents complained of the challenges associated with shopping for a wireless plan. At least 83 percent had some trouble shopping for wireless phone service and 52 percent complained that they had to sign up for a long contract to get the best price on a phone.

When trying to compare plans from competing carriers, 48 percent said it was hard, and 43 percent also found it difficult to figure out the true cost of the service.