Pros and cons of owning your own cable modem?
May 27, 2015 11:54 AM   Subscribe

I've got Time Warner for internet (no cable TV) and they charge $8/mo for an "Internet modem lease" (grrrr) Is it worth it to buy one outright (like this one?)? Will it be a hassle with Time Warner?

I want to save money over the long term, but it's not worth it if this causes connectivity problems or other hassles with Time Warner.
posted by coffee and minarets to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Just slight hassles at the beginning (may needed to have someone sent over) but all good otherwise.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:00 PM on May 27, 2015

I did this recently, although I got a modem with built-in wifi since I'd been having trouble with my wifi.
I did have to call Time Warner to finish the set-up and cancel the rental fee, but it was pretty painless.
posted by saffry at 12:00 PM on May 27, 2015

Yes, you should definitely buy your own modem.

It's a good idea to make sure it's one of the ones they approve. And you don't mention it, but it likely won't work with phone service, if you get that.
posted by brainmouse at 12:01 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can't speak to TimeWarner, but comcast's modems are uniformly horrible. My speed tripled when I started using my own modem. There is an effectively zero chance that Time Warner is renting you top-of-the-line hardware.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:02 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I did this recently with my new cable provider, Wave Broadband. There were two things I had to do that were not really a problem:

1> I had to carry the modem to a storefront location. My provider is nowhere as big as TW or Comcrap so I had to ride a bus to the ass-end of town to drop off the modem. On the bright side, it was close to the best Banh Mi place in the city.

2> I called support and gave them the MAC address of the new modem (it's a unique hardware ID for network devices). MAC is a 12-digit hex number that looks something like this: df 13 0e 6d e9 01 (numbers 0-9, a-e, so the 0 is never an letter O). It's probably printed on the sticker, those values are probably colon-separated. I switched the modems while I was on the phone with them, I read them the new MAC address, he did some "provisioning" of the modem, and then I think I rebooted and I was back online. Total time around 10 minutes with the tech, piece of cake.

After that, I disabled Wifi on the new modem since I already have Wifi set up elsewhere. If your TW modem is your main Wifi access point, then you'll have to have something, either in the new modem or in an additional device, to replacement.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:13 PM on May 27, 2015

At $8/mo, a cable modem will pay for itself in less than 6 months.

I can't speak for Time Warner, but on Comcast the procedure is pretty painless. They recognize you're using an unregistered modem, they redirect you to a page where you enter your account details, and done.
posted by neckro23 at 12:14 PM on May 27, 2015

Response by poster: Oh crap, I also use them for phone service.
posted by coffee and minarets at 12:16 PM on May 27, 2015

x7 - Buy your own modem. I installed my own wireless (as opposed to sharing) a few months ago, and it was painless. This Arris Touch had the best reviews of the ones that were compatible with TIme Warner, though I'd double check with them to make sure it's compatible in your location.

You'll need a router too. I inherited a coworkers, so I don't know the cost.
posted by kanewai at 12:19 PM on May 27, 2015

I should add - the best of the lower-cost modems. But it works fine.
posted by kanewai at 12:19 PM on May 27, 2015

I have Comcast, my parents have Time Warner. We both own our own modems and have had no problems doing it this way. I've owned my own since my first apartment in college (2003), and used it for Time Warner in one state, Comcast in another state, and Comcast in a third state. It stopped working about two years ago so I bought a new one for ~$60. I had to call and activate the new modem, but that didn't take more than 10 minutes. The only reason not to own your own modem is if you hate saving money or you live somewhere that it would be difficult to purchase/order a new modem quickly if yours breaks.
posted by notjustthefish at 12:20 PM on May 27, 2015

Way back when, in 2001, I had MediaOne for my monopolistic cable and internet provider. They required me to purchase my own cable modem; there was no rental available. So I did.

I later moved to RCN service territory, and brought over my own modem, though I had to go through a bunch of customer service hassles to allow this versus renting a modem. (I'd only had the modem for a year and I didn't think the cost had yet been amortized.)

A few other moves brought me into Comcrap territory and finally Charter territory. All the while, I brought this modem along with me.

Fast forward to 2006. My cable modem finally dies. I call out a Charter tech. He takes the broken modem and replaces it with a shiny new one at no cost to me. Since I'm still not being charged a modem rental or lease fee on my Charter bill, I (stupidly) assume that the modem is mine, since they took something of mine (the old modem) in exchange for it.

Fast forward to 2008. I move yet again, this time to Cox territory. I waive the rental fee and use "my own" modem. Charter comes after me threatening to charge me $150 plus collection fees if I do not return "their" modem. I waste several months arguing with Charter, and get increasingly nasty nastygrams in the mail with increasing collections amounts. Finally I decide it is not worth the hassle and send back their modem, renting one from Cox for a monthly fee instead.

In 2009 I make another move, this time back to Comcrap territory. I stop by the local Cox office to return their decoder and modem. They say I can keep the modem since they will just throw it out. I waive the Comcrap rental fee and use Cox's modem.

For an initial expenditure of $200 in 2001, I've got a fairly up to date cable modem that is still serviceable -- as far as I know. Unfortunately, in 2011, I moved yet again, this time to an area where cable internet is not available, and thus I've gotten a residential T1 (with rented T1 router from my provider).

So, let's assume I got exactly 10 years (120 months) of use out of some cable modem (mine, or Charter's, or Cox's). I spent $200, which makes my expense $1.67 per month.

To break even on that $8 per month charge, you'd need to own and use your cable modem for 25 months (just over two years). That's not a significant amount of time. Obviously, cable companies are scum and want you to give them as much of your money as possible. So, they're going to discourage you from using your own modem.

Ask yourself:
* How long am I going to be using this modem?
* Do I want to have to buy another one when it dies?
* Is it worth it to me to avoid the hassle of dealing with customer service flunkies who don't know what they are doing for (probably) minimal savings? -- I gather my 10 years of modem use is atypical.
* Might I move to different cable company monopolies' service territories and have to deal with potentially losing my modem as tckma did, knowing I might not get to keep one later?
posted by tckma at 12:20 PM on May 27, 2015

Yeah important thing with the phone service. Not all (or most) modems are telephone-service-compatible. The article you link to does note that "This modem won’t work for people... who also subscribe to telephone service from their cable provider". Compatible modems do exist (though I don't know which ones on Time Warner's list are telephone-compatible), but make sure you are taking it into consideration - it changes the calculation.
posted by brainmouse at 12:35 PM on May 27, 2015

This is an old post, but it looks like Time Warner might provide a free phone-only modem if you buy a modem for internet. Worth checking if that's still true.
If you are subscribed to both Internet and Home Phone service, we are able to give you the option of purchasing your own Internet modem. This means that you will not incur the monthly Internet Modem Lease charge; however, you will still need an eMTA to provide your phone service. We will allow you to bring your own Internet modem while still providing you an eMTA without the lease charge.
posted by brainmouse at 12:47 PM on May 27, 2015

I've done this for other people before with TWC.

You can definitely still purchase your own cable modem to get rid the the equipment rental fee, even if you have phone service. You will need a splitter and two additional RF cables, and you will plug the incoming cable line into both your modem and their modem (which is then only used for phone service) via the splitter.

Then you call Time Warner and tell them that you wish to get out of the equipment rental fee. At first this will probably confuse the agent, who "knows" that you have phone service and must use their gear for that. You will eventually work your way up the chain to someone who is able to manually adjust the account to eliminate the fee. It may take more than one call for them to get it right, because even though you CAN do this, apparently almost nobody does.

The irony is, of course, that you actually retain the equipment they provided and continue to use it, for free. And while that equipment is perfectly capable of doing Internet for you, you need to do Internet on your own modem to get out of the fee.
posted by jgreco at 1:07 PM on May 27, 2015

I have the rental fee for my modem waived (RCN). I think it was a deal when I signed up. I used to have my own modem, with Charter, and whenever I called to complain about their incredibly terrible service, they would blame it on the modem and refuse to do anything (because they can't diagnose problems with user equipment, but OBVIOUSLY it must have been my modem that was the problem). So, it's nice to have your own modem, but the cable company can use it as a scapegoat for their own terribleness.
posted by mskyle at 1:25 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am (sadly) a Time Warner customer. I faced the exact choice you have, but back when they implemented the fee, it was $3.95, not $8.

I bought the exact modem that the Wirecutter recommends (Motorola Surfboard SB6141). It works fine with Time Warner - I haven't had any issues with it in the year+ I've had it.

Setup was absolutely not a hassle, although because I was also moving, I did have someone out to turn on service anyway. You might need a technician visit, or you might be able to do this over the phone, but basically, your modem has to identify itself to TWC, and they have to issue it the codes that say "Ok, you're a valid customer".

As far as I understand, this is TWC's way of improving their infrastructure - if you buy your own modem, that's one less thing they are responsible for when it comes to their average broadband speeds. That's why I think the modem rental fee is climbing so quickly (is it really $8 already? per month?!?).

As an aside, welcome to Charter Communications! I'm seeing that their customer service ratings are a tiny notch better than TWC - enthusiastic customers report that it's like an F instead of an F-minus.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:26 PM on May 27, 2015

I bought my own modem for TWC (the aforementioned Surfboard SB6141), returned the old one, and didn't have any problems... but I also didn't check the bill for a few months. When I saw that they had charged me $11.85 worth of modem rental, I went down to the local office and politely alerted them to this fact, along with my copy of the return receipt for the old modem. They happily refunded the $12 and lowered their price on my service for a year.

So basically, demand and keep your modem return receipt.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:07 PM on May 27, 2015

I used my own modem with two cable internet companies (not TWC). It always worked as expected after some minimal, over the phone setup. That part of it was easy. I did unfortunately have some very unpleasant billing issues to slog through. So after you purchase your modem, keep a copy of the purchase receipt in a safe place. Hopefully you'll never have to deal with this, but the cable company might try to charge you for it as "unreturned equipment" when/if you cancel service. Also, check your bills to make sure that you are not still being charged the rental fee after you have gotten things switched over to your purchased modem.
posted by jazzbaby at 3:08 PM on May 27, 2015

My experience with Time Warner:

You will have to call them and tell them the MAC address of your new modem.

When you do this, ***you also need to tell them to turn off service for the old modem you were renting.*** You'd think that would go without saying, right? So did I, until like 6 months later when I noticed they had been charging for *two separate accounts worth of internet service* without my consent, and I had to have a huge fight with them to get them to credit the money back.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:05 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh crap, I also use them for phone service

If your phone service comes from Time Warner, you could instead get a VOIP phone like the Ooma, transfer your number to that, and use the VOIP phone with your own modem. That would save you the cable modem rental fee AND the TW phone charge. It works well for me with Comcast.

(VOIP = voice over internet protocol. Basically the same as what Time Warner are doing for you with their modem, which sends your phone call over the internet).
posted by anadem at 4:09 PM on May 27, 2015

Yes, buy your own modem.

Read up on which modem to buy at the wirecutter.

I've never liked having the router, gateway, and wireless access point in the same box so I would (and did but with DSL) buy a modem and a separate wireless router (a recommendation for which you can also find via that same link). Even if the cable modem itself is great, the hardware they use for the router part is usually mediocre or worse.

You'll probably need to put the cable modem into a bypass mode or something but the setup is usually pretty simple.
posted by VTX at 5:00 PM on May 27, 2015

My experience with Time Warner was similar to some of the above. In 2011 I signed up for internet access only. I had/still have cell service and was provided satellite TV by the HOA community I was renting in. TWC gave me a modem and started my internet service at less than $20.00 a month. By mid 2013 those rates had risen to near $40.00. Then I noted on my bill a new charge of $4.00 for modem rental. Huh? A rental fee for the modem I had been using with their blessing for no charge for two years?

I queried them and was told that they would not waive the fee but that I could buy my own modem. I googled the exact modem I had and found I could order it online for $10.00.

All this got me to thinking. I had in 2012 installed an antenna on my owners place (with permission) I was getting gorgeous broadcast HD for the cost of the gear - about $160.00. I did that because the provided satellite was down and dirty in image quality due to outdated equipment. Wifi internet was available in the local clubhouse and PDA net provided internet on my cell phone. A bit slow but well above dial up. About like DSL.

So I fired Time Warner and have not looked back. My new 4g phone provides amazing internet. I'm using it here. Lucky for me my son convinced me to pay the extra $5.00 for unlimited data. Think of that gun adage. They'll have to pry it out of my fingers.

This leads to my advice. If you live within 40 miles of a broadcast antenna you can have TV (minus those cable programs so no GOT, sports, etc.) for the cost of an antenna and if needed signal booster. FCC declares that you can have it legally. Landlord/HOA must allow but you cannot install on anyone else's property. Balconies, attics, and your own property are all allowed. Attic and indoor antenna's run less than $100.00. Other programming is available via the internet. You would need local providers. Some urban centers have companies that provide DSL and even cable speed service. Visit TVFool dot com to learn more.

I have saved hundreds of dollars since dumping TWC well more than enough to install expensive antenna system at my new home. I don't miss them at all. YMMV.
posted by Jim_Jam at 5:40 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm using TWC with my own modem, and they provided me a free box for the phone service which is hooked up separately. So you can have thw phone service without a rental fee of you usw your own modem for internet, or at least thats what I'm doing.
posted by thefoxgod at 11:43 PM on May 27, 2015

If you buy your own (and you should), and Time Warner asks for theirs back, get a written receipt for it. Cable companies are scum, and will try to charge you for the "missing" modem when you eventually cancel your service.
posted by sourcequench at 9:02 AM on May 28, 2015

I've always owned my own DSL and cable modems, and have had good luck buying refurb ones from ebay and Amazon. Make sure the rental fee gets dropped from your bill.
posted by aerotive at 9:02 AM on May 28, 2015

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