Customer satisfaction with the region's electric utilities improved last year for the third consecutive year, according to J.D. Power & Associates, the market research firm.

PPL Electric Utilities, of Allentown, Pennsylvania's second-largest utility, was the top-ranked company among 17 large East Coast electric utilities, according to the data.

Peco was ranked third, and Public Service Electric & Gas Co. in New Jersey was ranked fifth. All three utilities were above the average score of 626 for large Eastern utilities on J.D. Power's 1,000-point scale.

Among midsize electric utilities - those with 100,000 to 500,000 residential customers - Delmarva Power in Wilmington and Metropolitan Edison in Reading were rated above-average. Atlantic City Electric Co. was ranked about average.

Of note to Philadelphia customers: The flagship electric utility of UIL Holdings Corp., the Connecticut company that has agreed to buy Philadelphia Gas Works, was ranked in the bottom quartile for midsize utilities for the third year.

United Illuminating Co., of New Haven, performed poorly in all six categories that J.D. Power surveys - power quality and reliability, price, billing and payment, corporate citizenship, communications, and customer service, according to John Hazen, a J.D. Power senior director.

A UIL spokesman ascribed the utility's persistent low scores to Connecticut's high-priced market for power, which he said was beyond the utility's control. "That historically has always been an Achilles' heel for us," said Michael A. West Jr., the company's spokesman. (The state's other electric utility, Connecticut Light & Power, also scored poorly.)

West said UIL's own surveys showed better customer satisfaction. The electric utility also has been recognized for rapid recoveries following big storms like Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out two-thirds of its customers in 2012.

UIL's three gas utilities have not been rated by J.D. Power, so it is difficult to make a direct comparison of the company's performance to Philadelphia Gas Works. PGW customers are consistently among the nation's most dissatisfied gas customers - the city-owned utility has been ranked the lowest in the nation for many years in J.D. Power's surveys of gas utilities, which are announced separately later in the year.

Overall, electric utilities have consistently improved in the survey, now in its 16th year.

Hazen said high-scoring companies typically put more resources into improving areas where the surveys revealed weaknesses. He noted that Peco had stepped up its outage communications and social-media outreach in recent years, and its scores reflected improved customer responses.

Despite the improvements, electric utilities generally lag behind other service industries, like cable television and Internet providers, in keeping up to rising customer expectations, the survey disclosed.

"Consumers are becoming more familiar with a higher level of service in their daily activities with other service providers, and as a result, their expectations are rising," said Jeff Conklin, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power.

"The influence of other industries is really interesting," said Cathy Engel Menendez, a Peco spokeswoman. She said customers who have shopped online with companies such as expected the same thing from utilities, "and don't really understand why it's not easy."

Hazen said utilities, with their histories of monopoly control, were not as attuned to customer desires. "Utilities," he said, "are a little bit slower to implement new things."

215-854-2947 @maykuth