When you sign up for broadband Internet service, you need a modem that converts the digital signal into something your computers, phones, TVs and other connected devices can talk to. The big cable and phone companies make it very easy for you by offering to rent you a modem to use, but you don’t have to rent one.
You can buy your own and save a lot of money in the long run. If you are technologically inclined and want to save money on your Internet bill each month, buying a modem might be the right call for you.
How modems and routers work
The Internet comes into your home with either a cable, phone or fiber optic line. Each of these technologies can move data very quickly, but your computers and other devices can’t plug into those cords directly.
A modem encodes and decodes data traveling in and out of your home, and a router allows you to connect multiple devices to the same modem. The big Internet companies generally lease you an “all-in-one” modem-router combination. You can use either a combined modem-router or have two separate ones.
At my house, I own both my cable modem and a separate Google OnHub wireless smart router. I have never paid a rental fee to any internet company, as I have always owned my own.
How much can you save?
If you’re a Comcast customer, you typically pay $10 per month to rent a modem. Cox customers pay $7 to $10 per month for their modems. At CenturyLink, you pay $10 per month for a modem, and AT&T charges $7 per month. Verizon is also in the $10-per-month camp.
With modem rental rates all at or on the way to $10 or more, you shell out an extra $120 per year for your Internet service on top of advertised rates. If you are like me, that is $120 I would rather have in my own pocket.
How to find the right modem
If you have cable Internet from a company like Comcast or Cox, you need a DOCSIS compatible modem. Each provider offers its own “approved equipment” list, like this one for Comcast. You don’t necessarily have to buy something from the approved list, but if you have any doubts or worries about compatibility, you know you are safe if you stick to the list.
The current generation of cable modems uses DOCSIS 3.0. I personally use a Motorola SURFBoard SB6141, and it works great. I bought mine on Amazon, and it is the top-selling modem on the site with more than 9,000 reviews and a 4.5 star rating.
The current cost for a SURFBoard SB6141 is $69.95, which means that it will pay for itself in seven months (assuming a $10-per-month modem rental fee). Be sure to check your speed tier with your cable company before you buy to make sure you get every megabit you are paying for.
If you have DSL internet service from companies such as CenturyLink, you need a completely different type of modem. You can find a list of supported options at the CenturyLink website, or check with your own provider if you have a different DSL service.
When I lived in Denver and had CenturyLink service, I used an Actiontec modem router combo similar to this Actiontec 300 Mbps Wireless-N ADSL modem router. It costs $62.99 at Amazon, so you will break even right around six months compared to leasing from your provider.
Be prepared to be your own tech support
There is one big drawback to owning your own device. When you rent, your Internet provided has to provide tech support if you have any issues. While Internet companies are notorious for terrible support, they will eventually get it working.
When you own your own device, you can call in for help with basic configuration settings, but generally are responsible for troubleshooting issues on your own or with the manufacturer’s support while under warranty.
I have never come across an issue I couldn’t fix myself after getting everything set up and running, but you should have at least some level of comfort with technology before going out on your own.
Save money, avoid frustrating support calls
If you are comfortable with setting up a modem and router, there is no reason not to buy your own device. You can save money and don’t have to deal with annoying support agents (outside of a rarely needed call on initial setup).
After about 6-8 months, you will break even and beyond that, you will continue to save about $10 per month as long as you have the modem hooked up and running. Enjoy your new savings as a tech savvy, money savvy broadband user!