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Should You Lease or Purchase a Cable Modem?

Updated: Dec 27, 2018

If you are viewing this article from the comfort of your residence you are likely getting data through a signal from your local ISP (Internet Service Provider). Your internet signal is being translated through a cable modem. Your modem receives the data and a router distributes the data signal to your various home devices. Cable companies typically provide a cable modem for a monthly lease fee. One possible way to save some of your hard earned income is to replace the ISP’s modem with purchased hardware. In this article I will help you explore the pros and cons of a purchased modem.

Purchasing a modem comes with the responsibility to troubleshoot any potential connection problems that occur and/or any hardware problems that may result in modem failure. Even though most modem connection issues can easily be resolved by resetting the modem simply by unplugging the modem for a couple of minutes and then restoring power by plugging it back in, if the idea of tackling possible modem issues cause you anxiety and you do not have a go to person that can help your troubleshoot, then you may want to keep your leased modem. However, if you're comfortable with how to reset a modem, then you may want to read on to learn about the benefits of a purchasing a cable modem.

Before running off to get your hardware let’s first confirm that your modem is leased. To do this you just take a quick glance at your monthly bill. If you are renting the modem you will see a “modem rental fee” listed on your invoice with an associated monthly price. Next, you will want to put a pencil to paper to determine if the savings will justify the cost of purchasing your own hardware. When my cable modem fee increased from 5 to 10 dollars a month I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. Now instead of paying $120 dollars each year to lease an ISP modem, I paid a one time cost of $48 dollars and some change for an Motorola ARRIS Cable Modem and saved over $70.00 my first year’s cable bill. Actually, over the past four years I have a total savings of over $430.00. That is significant savings that can be used on other home improvement needs!

If you decide you want to buy a modem you should call your ISP or check your provider’s website for list of approved modems. When I bought my Motorola SURFboard Model SB6141 Modem, I was purchasing the exact same model that that was installed by my ISP. That way I could be confident that my purchased modem would be compatible with my internet provider.

When buying a modem be aware that many ISPs require DOCSIS 3.0 modems for higher speed internet tiers. What is DOCSIS? DOCSIS is an acronym meaning Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. DOCSIS is a telecommunications standard used to provide Internet access via a cable modem. It is important because it is a key element in providing modem manufacturers and network service providers a common method for products to work together in a predictable manner. When compared to DOCSIS 2.0, DOCSIS 3.0 is simply a more recent version of the standard. The most visible difference to users is that DOCSIS 3.0 modems provide the highest possible service speeds. That is why many service providers require DOCSIS 3.0 modems for their higher speed service tiers.

With your compatible modem in hand, simply follow your ISP’s instructions for activating your modem. My service provider listed four easy steps that took me less the five minutes to get connected:

  1. First, find the modem ID (MAC Address). The MAC address is typically located on the bottom of the modem (usually follows letters “MAC” or “EA”)

  2. Next, connect one end of a coaxial cable to a live cable outlet and the other end to the "IN" port of your purchased modem.

  3. Now use the phone number associated with your account to identify yourself in the automated system and say, “activate”.

  4. Once you are connected with an agent, simply provide him or her with your modem’s MAC address and the agent will add your new modem to your account and activate it for service.

So why might you want to keep a leased modem? One reason is that the ISP has installed the appropriate modem for your Internet service plan and speed tier. Therefore if you buy a modem that is not fully compatible or does not have the correct specification you may get less than optimal performance.

Another good reason to retain a leased modem is if your service provider plans on upgrading their system any time soon. You want to be sure to ask your provider if any such plans are pending. If you are leasing a modem, when such changes occur you’ll get a new modem when they upgrade their systems. On the other hand, if you have a purchased modem you may need to buy new hardware.

Probably the most important reason to lease a modem is for the technical support you receive from your service provider. If something in the interface is not working correctly or the modem stops working the provider will troubleshoot the issue and replace the hardware if necessary. However, if you have purchased your own modem you will need to troubleshoot problems yourself or rely on the modem’s warranty service if your modem fails.

So what direction is the best direction? Well that depends. Installing a purchased modem can save you considerable money over the years. Therefore, if you are competent in PC troubleshooting your will likely be much better off buying a modem rather than paying the ever increasing monthly rental charges. However, as stated previously, you must both willing and able to troubleshoot any possible connection problems as your cable company may be quick to blame problems on your purchased hardware. When it comes down to it, you simply need to calculate the savings and determine whether the switch is best for you based on your comfort level. For me, the decision to purchase rather than rent was an easy one to make.

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