Save Money: Bring Your Own Cable Modem & Stop Paying Rental Fees

Many cable internet providers have been initiating or increasing cable modem rental fees recently. In many cases, the fees are now so high that it is almost a “no-brainer” decision to buy your own modem. Unfortunately, many people either won’t notice the fee or don’t even know that bringing your own equipment is an option.

In my case, a family member who had Time Warner cable was now being charged $5.99 a month for basic cable modem rental. $6 a month is $72 a year. A quick look on the TWC compatible modem list showed several models that can be found online at retailers like for under $100. (The model with a built-in WiFi router costs $12 a month while a separate router can be bought for $20!)

I stuck with a familiar name brand and picked the Motorola Surfboard SB6121 for $65.99. (The SB6141 at $80 is the next model up and compatible with the fastest speeds available, though you’ll have to subscribe to one of the most expensive monthly plans.) Both are DOCSIS 3.0 which ensures future compatibility.

The installation process was quite simple:

  1. Buy the modem. Wait for it to arrive. Remove old modem (unscrew cable cord and unplug power). Install new modem (screw in cable line and plug it power).
  2. Call your provider or start a Live Chat session online. Time Warner is 1-800-TWC-HELP (1-800-892-4357), or pick the “Buy or Lease your Modem” option when chatting.
  3. Provide them with the Cable Modem ID (MAC address) found on the back or bottom of your new modem. Wait 30 minutes or less and your high speed internet should be working again.
  4. Remember to return old modem (this is really the hardest part).

Unless you plan on moving really soon, at $66 for the modem with free shipping you’d break even in less than 11 months. Alternatively, consider it a $66 investment that distributes $6 of tax-free income every month. That’s a 111% annual yield. Good luck finding any stock that will give you that!


  1. A thing to mention though, is that I heard a lot of people who bought their modems who received really poor service from Time Warner after they had changed from renting. It may not be legal for them to do so, but it seems they take their revenge by sometimes reducing your speed or plain making the connection hiccup. If you need a constant working connection, it seems something one would want to be aware of.

  2. Good advice. It’s one of the first things I did after we 86ed our land line!

  3. First check if your cable company will allow it.

  4. This is the first thing I did after signing up for cable internet (bought the same modem too, the SB6121). LOL @ 111% annual yield! That makes me feel like some kind of investment guru! I wonder if more people would adopt frugality as a lifestyle if frugal ideas were presented in investment terms like annual yield.

  5. I have service with Comcast including phone service and when I tried to use a modem that I bought off of Ebay they told me it would not work because of the phone service. Not sure if this is true or if they didn’t want to loose the rent fee.
    Shreveport, LA

    • Greg,

      You need a cable modem that also allows for phone service – Arris TM822G Touchstone® DOCSIS 3.0 8×4 Ultra-High Speed Telephony Modem – this is one you can use. A bit more expensive since it is cable and telephone.


  6. I did this over a year ago. I went even further and bought used/refurbished Motorola modem (I don’t remember a model) on eBay for around $20. Since then no problems with it whatsoever. It may be annoying to call your internet provider and setting this up, but it totally worth it.

  7. I have TWC and that’s exactly what I did 1.5 yrs ago. But, I did it before they started charging the rental fee because I read from forums that TWC didn’t always give out DOCSIS 3.0 modems (which happened to me) and it will greatly restrict your bandwidth if you get the higher speed internet package. I got the SB6141 because SB6121 wasn’t supported at that time. Boo~

    Also, you should still watch your statement after you make the change because this happened to me (reported by me):

  8. I have done the same thing. One word of advice: Be sure to continue to monitor your cable bill after you have purchased and setup your own modem. I had to call Comcast twice and have them credit back the modem rental fee.

  9. I did this as well the second RCN started allowing customers to use their own modem several years ago (of course when rental fees were much lower). I figured it would take 2 years of rental fees savings to pay off the price of the modem. I used the modem for well over 5 years.

    I recently switched to Verizon FIOS, who does not charge a fee for their modem/router.

    @Greg I don’t think the phone service should be affected. Typically they have separate “modem” for their phone service and one for the internet. I know i had my own cable modem for internet and never charged equipment fee for the phone. But of course this was with RCN.

  10. I heard that some cable companies (Comcast) charge a one-time self-install fee somewhere around $50(?) if you don’t rent theirs. Anyone know more about that?

  11. I have had comcast service in different states(IL and MN) and my own modem, but I never had to pay a service fee for self installation.

    Could that fee be for something else?

  12. To add a bit to the original post – purchase a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, and reduce the internet service to the lowest priced category. My understanding is that the provider caps the bandwidth through the modem. This is why the provided modem for the lower categories is not a DOCSIS 3.0.

    • DOCSIS 2.0 supports speeds of up to 30 Mbps. So, unless you are paying for higher speed there is no need to buy DOCSIS 3.0 modem.

  13. Off topic but does anyone know if cablevision will allow thier own cable box. I have basic cable andI pay 50% of the basic cable rates for the monthly cable box charge.

    Any opinions on NOT renting cable box and work around?

    • I mean “allow customer to have thier own cable box”.

      • I chatted with cablevision rep and they said customers can’t bring their own boxes. Their defense line is that you are no being charged for cable model on your monthly bill. $6.95 rent fee is for the TV box.

  14. Also if you have your own modem it’s less hassle to switch from one provider to another to keep promotional prices. I have a pretty comparable Cable and DSL in my area. And every 6 months I switch from one to another to maintain my $30 a month promo prices. It does require 2 separate modems (one for Cable and one for DSL) but saving $300+ a year is totally worth it!

  15. Yup, I did this for myself and at my parents’ home. Totally worth it and really little hassle!

  16. i’m with Comcast, and I’ve owned my own modem for years, and recently purchased a docsis 3.0 to be sure to be able to handle their increases in speed. They havent as yet charged me any added fees. However, they continue to increase my bill a few dollars every few months. i call and ask for a discount, so they reduce my bill for a few months, then, the bill goes up even more, basically IMO to just recoup the previous discount. i recently asked about a promo contract price, which would have been beneficial to me, except that i would have to take their rental modem, whether i used it or not. their rental modem price here is $9.00 a month. Their only competition in my area is a constantly dropping and slooow dsl connection thru AT&T.

  17. What timing – is currently offering this modem and Total Defense Internet Security as a combo pack for $36 after a $60 rebate! Here’s a link to a SlickDeals thread about it—motorola-surfboard-sb6121-docsis-3.0-cable-modem-total-defense-premium-internet-security?

    For those of you that don’t want to hassle with the rebate, you can use the following 20% off coupon at Staples (in-store only, through 12/28) to get the modem for $58$XNt0AwHod/coupon.html?n=2275&$Xm1&

  18. Xfinity (formerly Comcast) has a help page for buying your own, including a link to a list of modems they have tested:

  19. One thing to note: Make sure you *document* the step where you return the original equipment to the cable company. Invariably, they will fail to track it properly themselves and will subsequently attempt to charge you for the equipment you no longer have if/when you end the service (and this despite the fact that they had discontinued the equipment charge for XX months or years).

    If you’re prepared to show them the receipt they gave you upon returning the equipment (and perhaps also documentation of your own equipment purchase), it should help.

  20. This is what I’ve been telling my parents forever but they still have the rental modem.

    I’ve had my own modem since i noticed the rental fees on the internet bill ..
    but the funny thing is every time I call Cox Communications for any sluggish internet (once or twice) period, they jump immediately to “you need a new modem, we have a new modem that you can use” talk.

    My modem was bought in 2012, I’m not going to replace my modem, thank you, Cox, just because they don’t bother with troubleshooting the problem. (both cases, turns out the slowness issue was on their end!)

  21. Just followed this plan and called in to make the switchover. Took about 25 mins of being on hold and the TWCable technician going through the process, so be prepared. Thanks Jonathan, your blog has been a daily reader of mine for years!

  22. I just did this as well with TWC and should of done it earlier! Thanks for the quick tip!

  23. I took your advice and stopped renting the cable modem from TWC. I drove to drop off the little modem in Portland, Maine during a major snowstorm, and even then it was not that big of a hassle. After only 12 months I will start saving money, so the payoff is quick.

  24. Andy Rubin says:

    Heads up to Time Warner Cable people… if you try and buy a 2 in1 device (meaning a Modem and wireless router in one box) They will NOT allow you to use it without paying them 4.99 per month for this “service”. It will work for a short time then they will repeatedly shut down your wireless. When you call them, they will not know what you are talking about! Took me 5 calls to finally get to the bottom of this. Solution: Buy a less expensive modem that is a modem only and a separate Wireless Router. I bought the SBG6580 costs over $100. Wish I knew all this beforehand, took me three weeks of work. Good luck.

    • Wow. That’s insane. I am not sure why they would even do that, especially if they list it on their modem list. I can’t think of any reason how and what they would benefit from doing that.

    • Andy — Thanks for giving the heads up. The policy is nuts, of course. But I would also add here that I’ve always found it advisable to stick with separate modems and routers.

      In my experience (and from what I’ve heard of others’), combination units tend to be much less reliable. Standalone cable modems tend to be relatively long-lived and stable, but all bets are off with a combo unit. And since the entire unit is going to be considered “CPE” under the thumb of the cable company, you have less control. You may not be able to do things like apply the latest firmware for new features or bug fixes — this is typically the case for a cable modem (even customer owned), but it’s more problematic with a router, given its more diverse functions. Finally, it’s a real advantage to be able to upgrade your router equipment quickly and easily while leaving your cable modem interface in place.

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