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It's still a mistake to rent a cable modem

Posted by Rob Pegoraro, Special for USA TODAY on

-Click here to see video version-

Although buying a modem requires a higher up-front cost, it pays for itself in a couple years. Here are a few things that have changed in the cable-Internet business. USA TODAY

I last covered this topic here, a few things have changed in the cable-Internet business: One major cable operator no longer gives you the modem for free, another has made it a little easier to shop for one, and a new modem standard may complicate your decision a little more.

The basics, however, have not changed: You should not pay a monthly fee to rent a modem unless you’re likely to move to a different cable operator’s territory in less than a year.

In pretty much every other scenario, you should buy the modem -- unlike cable boxes, there’s a functioning standard called DOCSIS (“Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification”) that lets you bring your own hardware. With modem prices generally under $100, the payback period can come in less than a year, depending on how much your operator charges to rent one:

  • Comcast, the nation’s largest cable firm, charges $10 a month to rent a modem. (Despite this being a nationwide rate, I had to provide a street address and go a few clicks into ordering service to see that figure.)
  • Time Warner Cable charges $10 a month.
  • Cablevision no longer includes a modem in the cost of its Optimum Online service and instead charges $4.95 a month.
  • Charter still includes a modem with service.
  • Cox charges $6.99 a month.
  • Cable operators will tell you that you’re on your own for support with the modem, but you’re far more likely to have issues with your wireless router or your computer or tablet.

    You should, however, make sure you’re using a modem approved by your cable operator (see Comcast, TWC, Cablevision, Charter, and Cox’s endorsements), and you should also verify that it supports “telephony” if you get phone service from your cable operator.

    But even with all of these well-documented reasons to buy a cable modem, cable operators continue to tell me that most subscribers continue to lease. At Comcast, for instance, a full 74% of them were paying rent on its current hardware as of the fourth quarter of last year.

    Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at Follow him on Twitter

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