On Renting vs. Owning a Cable Modem

I got complacent.

For years, we’ve had our service with Brighthouse (now Spectrum) and in the past, our modem was included as part of the monthly Internet fee. Then, at some point, we were being charged $4 a month for our cable modem. Since when, I don’t know. But after scrutinizing my bill this month, I noticed the rental charge. Now, $4/month isn’t that much – but over the years, it can really add up. I’m fairly certain I’ve paid at least a couple hundred dollars in rental fees alone.

Now, before I go on about my decision to own a cable modem – let me just say that it made sense for my situation. Renting may not be a bad option if you know you’re going to move, or if you have roommates, or if your employer’s going to cover your cable modem rental costs. In every other scenario, you’re better off buying your own cable modem. And that’s exactly what I did.

I bought an Arris Surfboard SB6183 off of Amazon for about $70. Before buying it, I visited Spectrum’s website to make sure that the modem would be compatible with my ISP. I also called my ISP to double-check. And while I was at it, I also realized that I could have been getting a better monthly ISP plan. Previously, I paid $78 for 60Mbps down / 6 Mbps up. Now I’m paying $64 for 100 Mbps down / 10 Mbps up. Bottom line: it pays to call periodically to see if you’re getting the best deal.

The modem arrived yesterday. In the box is the modem, a power supply, an Ethernet cable and a few sheets of documentation. This particular model comes with a 2 year warranty.

The modem itself is tiny, with a height of 5.25 inches.

The top and sides feature plenty of ventilation thanks to its perforated, plastic build.

The front of the unit features four indicator lights, representing (from top to bottom): power, download, upload, and Internet connectivity.

The back of the unit sports power in, Ethernet in, and a coax connector. The lights, particularly the blue lights, emanating from the unit are bright. If you keep your router in your bedroom, the light might be bright enough to bother you.

Below is a photo comparing the size difference between the old rental Arris modem next to the one I purchased. The old modem had extra features that I never used, including a built-in wi-fi router. As I’m using the Eero for all my routing needs, the old Arris’s extra features weren’t being utilized. By contrast, the new SB6183 model is a dedicated cable modem with no extra frills.

Setup was easy, barring the oddly shaped power supply. (Seriously, manufacturers – let’s get rid of the big, bulky power brick already!) After some cable rearranging and some obligatory grumbling on my part, the unit was receiving power. Next, I wired the Ethernet cable from the Arris cable modem to the Eero router. The router, in turn, sends its signal over to a Netgear switch, which distributes connectivity to all the wired devices in our house.

To let your cable provider know that you have a new modem, you’ll have to call them up and provide your cable modem’s MAC ID (located on the bottom of the unit). Your ISP will need this info to send the signal over to the new cable modem. After a few minutes, you should have glorious Internet coursing through your new cable modem’s hardware. It’s not a bad idea to reboot your machines to fully take advantage of the new hardware. I noticed a marked improvement in doing so.

Based on Speedtest benchmarking, the new modem delivers 113 Mbps down and roughly 11.48 Mbps up.

Time will tell about long term reliability on this unit. Other online reviews seem to be overwhelmingly positive. Based on its cost, owning the Arris SB6183 cable modem will save me money long term. Better late than never, right?


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  • Ben McCormickReply
    February 11, 2018 at 9:47 am

    I recently moved into a new apartment and needed to set up a new Internet account. We have Cox Cable in our area and from previous experiences I was aware of the rental fee ($9.99/month here). I went online, compared reviews and selected a cable modem (from Cox’s approved compatible list) and a router (Netgear Nighthawk AC1750). All told modem and router set me back about $157, with the bulk of the expense being the router.

    I was required to pay $75 for a “professional install” and not given the option for DIY install. I knew there would be issues as soon as I overheard the technician on the phone with his office having to have the difference between the cable modem and the router explained. After three and a half hours in and out of my living room, and the arrival of a second technician, I was told that my modem wouldn’t work but there was strong signal so they could give me one of there super whamodyn cable modem/router one piece units. Amazingly it would work and only cost me $9.99/month.

    The next morning I got on the phone with Cox Cable tech support and in twenty minutes had my cable modem and router working fine. I returned the rental and filed multiple complaints. They never would back off the $75 “Professional” install fee but they finally gave me $20 off my first month’s bill for the inconvenience and removed the $9.99 rental fee.

    • KrishnaReply
      February 11, 2018 at 9:31 pm

      Ugh. That sounds like a nightmare, Ben. I’ve heard terrible things about Cox cable. This story reinforces that notion. Glad you were able to get at least something back for all the trouble you went through.

  • gjbReply
    February 12, 2018 at 8:09 am

    Been using my own cable modem since August 2010. Actually have two of the same model. I bought refurbished Cisco cable modems through Amazon (on Comcast’s approved list) and spent about $90 on the two of them. I figure if one dies, I just have to hook up the other one, call Comcast and give them the new MAC address.

    This costs me less than one years worth of rental fees at their current pricing I believe.

    Now if Centurylink would just get the Gigabit fiber out to my location…

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