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Frugal Tip: Replace Your Rented Cable Modem with Your Own

by Ryan Guina

When my wife and I moved to our current home we got a sweetheart deal on our Internet service for the first two years we lived here ($25 a month, plus a free cable modem for two years). Unfortunately, our two year intro period recently ended, leaving me with a higher monthly service fee, and a $5 a month rental fee for the cable modem. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a fee I could negotiate. $5 a month is reasonable as far as rental fees go, as some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) charge up to $7 per month for a standard cable modem, and often more if you have an integrated wireless router. But $5 a month is still a fee I’d like to avoid if possible, and thankfully, I can. Instead of paying the monthly rental fee, I bought a router for $77, including tax and shipping. My router will pay for itself in less than a year and a half, and everything after that is gravy.

If you are currently renting your cable modem, then I encourage you to look into replacing it with one of your own. It is quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive. And it could save you hundreds of dollars over the life of the modem.

How to Replace Your Rented Cable Modem

replace cable modem

You can save a lot of money by buying instead of renting.

Buying a new cable modem is easy – simply go to your favorite electronics store, buy a modem, and you’re done, right? Yes and no. You also need to make sure your modem is compatible with your Internet Service Provider and you need to let them know you are replacing your modem so they can map it to their network. Don’t worry if this sounds like mumbo-jumbo, it’s pretty easy.

Ensure your new cable modem is compatible with your ISP. The first step is to contact your Internet Service Provider to make sure they support the new hardware and software you are buying. I researched multiple cable modems before buying mine and I ended up buying the number two modem on my list of top rated modems. My first choice wasn’t on the list of supported modems provided by my ISP, which is too bad, because it was $11 cheaper than the one I bought. My ISPs support forums stated that others have used my #1 rated modem without any issues, however, they also stated they didn’t support any firmware updates. The modem I bought still had great ratings, so I figured an extra $11 was worth the price of avoiding potential firmware issues in the future. The modem should last me at least 3-5 years, so $11 is inconsequential over that time frame.

How to find a compatible cable modem: The best way is contact your Internet Service Provider’s customer service department, look on their website, or ask in their forums (most have an active support forums for questions such as this). You can also visit your favorite search engine and type, “Internet provider name + compatible cable modems” to find a list.

Important – make sure the modem you buy is forward compatible. There is one term you will come across when shopping for a cable modem: DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification). DOCSIS is basically a data format that allows for high-speed data transfer. All most consumers need to know about DOCSIS is that they should buy a modem that is rated as DOCSIS 3.0, and backward compatible to DOCSIS 2.0. The reason is that most standard cable Internet packages are covered by a DOCSIS 2.0 modem, but the higher speed services require a DOCSIS 3.0 modem. It is likely that all cable Internet services will require DOCSIS 3.0 in the future. There isn’t a big cost difference to get the 3.0 version, so do it. It’s better to be forward compatible so you don’t need to replace your modem before its shelf life expires. Remember, the cost difference over a several years is inconsequential.

Installing your cable modem

Unfortunately, you can’t just install a modem and have it work right away. The process is easy, but you will need to call your cable internet provider to give them the cable modem MAC address and serial number so they can enter it into their system and map the signal to your device (they white list devices to prevent theft of service). This usually only takes a few minutes. This is also why you want to make sure you have a compatible device, as you may have issues with some devices not found on their list of approved devices.

In some cases you may need to have the firmware updated, which can take a few more minutes, depending on your device, Internet speeds, and other factors.

Once your modem is up and running, you can connect it directly to your computer, or to your router. You shouldn’t have to reinstall your router, but you may have to give it a hard reboot or reset it before it will recognize your cable modem. But most of the time it will recognize the new modem without any issues.

Important – Send Your Old Modem Back!

The whole purpose of buying a cable modem is to avoid the monthly rental fee, so be sure to turn in your old modem. Your Internet Service Provider will continue to charge you a monthly rental fee until you return the device, regardless of whether or not you are using it. Many ISPs have a physical location where you can turn in the device, while other companies may require you to mail in your device. If you need to send it via the postal service, then be sure to get insurance or a receipt to verify they received it. File the receipt with your other important documents until you have verified they have received the device and stopped your monthly rental fee.

Enjoy your savings! There you go – 60 minutes of work (at most!) for ongoing savings each month. In most cases, this is a great way to save money over the long haul, as most cable modems will last several years.

Cable modem image, public domain.


Published or updated May 20, 2013.
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jake Erickson

Great tip! I bought our modem when we bought the house. The internet provider was going to charge us $100 and it wouldn’t even be ours to keep. I bought one online for $20 and it’s worked fine ever since. It takes a bit of work to get it going, but it’s worth it in the end.

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2 Ryan Guina

$20 is a great price! In all honesty, I could probably could have purchased a modem for much less than I spent. However, I wanted ot make sure the modem I got would last a long time. So I read a few third party reviews, created a short list, then went to Amazon to read some more reviews. In the end, I should still save a lot of money, so I’m happy.

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3 Jon

My mom was paying 7/month for a very cheap modem. I bought her a refurb of a better one on ebay for 18 dollars (same one, same price that I bought for myself a few months ago). Yes, it’s only DOCSIS 2.0, but has very good diagnostics though it’s web interface (typically found at http://192.168.100.1/ ). I doubt that DOCSIS 2.0 will be phased out anytime soon. 1.0 is still supported according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOCSIS and it sounds like backward compatibility is a key part of the spec.

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4 Ryan Guina

Awesome deal, John! Right now DOCSIS 3.0 is only necessary for more robust internet plans, and not all cable providers are even offering it. So depending on your needs, a DOCSIS 2.0 modem is perfectly fine, especially at under $20! If your mother needs to upgrade at a later date, she can do so, and won’t really be out any money by waiting. Thanks for sharing!

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5 Kirk Kinder

Ryan,

Great tip. I pride myself on finding little money savers all the time, but I hadn’t even thought of this. I need to get to work on this immediately. Thanks.

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