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Should you buy or rent a cable modem?

This is one of those things you've probably never though about but most likely should. Because standing between your computer and all your connected stuff is a little blinking vampire that most likely is costing you money.

Presenting: The cable modem.

That's the little thing with three or four lights that sends the GBs to your Wifis and lets you do all the things. And there's a pretty good chance that you're shelling out money for it every month. Money that could be used to, say, buy a cable modem instead.

The decision is easy. Mostly.

First, find out how much your internet service provider is charging to rent a cable modem every month. The easiest way to do that is to look on your bill. Or maybe you'll need to give 'em a call.

Comcast — America's largest ISP — by example, charges $10 a month — plus taxes and fees — to rent a modem. The No. 2 ISP, Charter's Spectrum service, gives out a modem for free. So it'll definitely vary by service.

This is basic math, folks. If renting costs more than purchasing, then you should probably buy outright.

But let's go back to the Comcast example, since the math is nice and neat. We'll assume an extra $2 a month in taxes and fees, for a nice round $12 a month for the privilege of having the hardware necessary to use the internet that you're paying for in the first place. That's $144 a year.

If you want a purchase a modem outright, though, it's easy enough to do. You may be able to just buy one from your ISP and save a trip. Or if you prefer the online route, the Netgear CM500 cable modem — one of the higher rated ones out there, but there most certainly are others — is just $53 on Amazon. (Just be sure to check your ISP's website to make sure you're buying a compatible modem.)

That math is pretty darn simple. In our example you're spending almost three times as much to rent a modem than if you were to buy one yourself. And that's if you were to only keep your purchased modem for one year. The longer it works, the more you'll save.

Are there any reason to rent? Sure. Mostly, laziness.

Caring for a cable modem isn't exactly difficult. Ninety-nine percent of the time it just sits there, dutifully blinking away. But when things go wrong is where renting might actually be advantageous.

For one, renting a cable modem means your ISP is on the hook to replace it should it die, or update it should that need arise. Basically, you're paying extra to avoid the hassle of worrying about it. On the other hand, if something does go wrong you're going to be inconvenienced whether or not you bought the modem yourself.

So the questions you have to ask yourself are:

  1. Do you like wasting money on renting things you could purchase instead?
  2. Do you want to deal with replacing or updating your modem yourself?

Just do a little homework, and do a little math, and save yourself a little dough.

Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days. Subscribe to the Modern Dad newsletter!

25 Comments
  • I think this article really only goes over the financial reasons. There should be technical reasons too such as more control over your internet and better performance.
  • Modem rentals in Canada are actually cheaper. For example Shaw Communications would charge you $500 purchase or $3 per month. Same for Telus = $650 purchase one-time [or] $5 per month.
  • Can't you just buy one somewhere else?
  • I have this one on my Amazon list ASUS CM-32 Cable Modem Wifi Router
  • It's advisable not to buy a modem router combo!
  • Why?
  • You also have to factor in if your Cable company will allow you to use your own modem, some don't, or what level of suppoort they will provide in off hours if you use your own equipment. The company I have stops all support at the first piece of non cable company equipment they hit.. So if the cable modem you bought goes out or loses signal you get zero support until a technician can come "check the lines" maybe days later. Heck they may even just assume its your equipment and go thru many calls befoe they are willing to "check the lines".  Again as others have said its not always about saving money.
  • The answer is always BUY ONE... unless you plan to only use the service for less than a year and don't want hardware lying around.
  • None when ISPs like AT&T have proprietary software that requires you to rent one from them.
  • Sure the cable company will step in if something goes wrong with the modem and replace it, but it's still cheaper to upgrade your modem every year and still come out ahead (Not that anyone would have a modem fail on a yearly basis).  You could even buy two modems and have one sitting in the box as a backup and save money in the first year!
  • The one issue is if you use Comcast's landline service, you then need a specific cable modem that works with that service and they don't exactly like to sell those.  I purchased one from Amazon about 3 or 4 years ago and it has worked flawlessly once provisioned, others have tried the same thing and had Comcast try and tell them it isn't supported and other such nonsense.  Even the XFINITY page says my telephony modem isn't comptable with my internet speed but my recent tests show that I am getting pretty close to the 250Mbps that my plan offers. https://cdn.comcast.com/support/internet/list-of-approved-cable-modems/
  • Comcast technical support sucks unless you get transferred to tier 2. I've had them tell me my Comcast owned modem was out of date and when I went to the store found out it's the current one they're giving all new customers it was just the rep was too lazy to troubleshoot my problem
  • Also note that some ISPs like AT&T U-verse have proprietary software that does not allow you to buy your own modem to use, even if it is a compatible type, even if it is the 1st party AT&T modem resold. It doesn't work, you HAVE to go through them and rent one...
  • Do you know this for a fact? Would you be able to provide a link to your source? I've been renting from AT&T for the longest time and I'm now thinking about buying my own modem, but I'm also having second thoughts based on your comment here. I'm afraid if I asked AT&T directly they would tell me nothing is compatible with their system just to discourage me from buying my own. Thanks.
  • The problem is att uses two wire modems (one cable, one dsl) these modems are few and far between and usually are expensive. On top of that you'll usually only find one rated for at your speed or below. If you switch to a cable only company like Comcast, spectrum, time warner, level 3, etc.. You'll have better luck getting a modem that's worth getting.
  • Financially purchasing your own modem make sense. But the thing you have to consider is cable carriers especially Comcast if you're using your own modem will do basic troubleshooting only to make sure your modem is getting a signal but if you're having any other problems you're going to have to deal with your moodems manufacturer Comcast will not help.
  • I don't care about the math.  For me, it's about the performance.  I can buy a much better-performing cable modem (and DID) than Time-Warner or Spectrum ever provided.  I'll pay a pretty penny for that performance, too.
  • Buy it....You're better off...Who knows what firmware was installed in the modem by the owner ISP!
  • Doesn't matter, even if you own it, if it is a model that they also rent, their custom firmware will get installed when you activate it.
  • You mean MAC address not the firmware....I checked my own modem firmware before and after I hooked it to the wall cable and called the cable company giving its MAC address for initialization - Same version...
  • I going to declare as this is a US only article, based on one broadband carrier type mostly based on one provider this article to be niche to the global readship.
  • One more thing is, Comcast, for example, LOVES to "optimize" their network whenever they feel like it. I got Level 3 support to set my Comcast Cable Modem to "bridge mode" after much hassle, and it lasted all of 2 months before they (without notice) reset every modem in my area, both turning off my "bridge mode" and re-enabling their "Xfinity Wi-Fi" service on it that I DO NOT WANT and have turned off at least 6 times from their website. Heck, they change the DNS entries on their cable modems at least once a month. Any issues and you are on the hook to figure it out if you don't rent one of their modems. OTOH - If you DO own your own, get them to give you a FIXED IP address so you can use Google DNS and avoid their data-mining DNS servers. If they let you. And don't change things in your area to "improve" your service. It's good to be the King.
  • The one I have is the DPC3008 in the picture. I think I paid around $10 for it on eBay so it paid for itself in one month. Actually I bought several so I can swap if there's a problem.
  • I bought my modem from spectrum ($99) 4 or 5 years ago and it works as good as the day I got it. Back then they charged $5 a month and I did the easy math. Now they don't charge for a modem but I have a modem that has been excellent, its a Ubee.
  • Zoom modems are not on this list and have a number of fully certified Xfinity compatible modems that are solid, great performers, and reasonably priced. Have had mine for 6 months with no restarts, and it has been rock solid.