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Using Your Own Cable Modem


One way cable TV and telephone companies increase your bill is by having you rent their equipment. If you’ve cut the cable cord but still use your former pay TV provider for internet access, you may want to check your bill and see if you are being charged a rental fee for a modem and/or router that they supply.

If they are, you could be losing over $100 a year in charges you don’t need to pay. The cost to replace the modem can typically be recouped in less than a year. In this article I’ll explain which modem you need based on your provider. You can then stop handing over more money than necessary to your internet service provider.

What Does a Modem Do?

Modem is the short term we use for modulator de-modulator. Essentially it encodes and decodes electrical impulses into information passed over a wire. Those that remember or still use dial up internet use a phone modem to encode and decode digital information used by a computer into analog signals that can be sent over the phone line.

A cable modem is doing a slightly different job. It’s job is to simply isolate a transmission path to send your network data over the same lines cable TV is carried on. It then functions as a modem to encode the information for use on your network via Ethernet or WiFi.

Cable companies use a transmission standard called Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification or DOCSIS. This is important to know because the modem, you will need must use the DOCSIS standard. The modem will take a coaxial input on one side and an Ethernet output on the other. From there, the Ethernet cable is plugged into a home router.

Cable companies sometimes supply a modem/router combo device.  I’ve found that these devices make for poor routers, leaving less than desirable  WiFi coverage in your home. In most cases it’s better to purchase a router  separate  from your cable modem.

This allows you to purchase the router of your choice and is much cheaper to upgrade in the future, as you can upgrade either your modem or your router when needed, and not both. I find purchasing an affordable quality wireless router and separate cable modem will be cheaper than purchasing one device to do both functions.

Choosing A Cable Modem

I recommend the following modems based on your internet service provider.

Modem for Cable Company (Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, etc.)

If your internet is provided from a major cable company like Comcast/Xfinity, Cox, Charter, Time Warner, Mediacom, Bright House then you will need a DOCSIS 3.0 Cable modem. However, you have to be careful. Not all cable modems support the providers highest tier speed.

To help you through the confusion,  I looked for the best modem to buy based on price, provider compatibility, and speed. Ideally you want to get the cable modem that will offer the best speeds from the most providers. This will give you the freedom to switch companies or move and still use your modem.

With that in mind, I recommend the ARRIS / Motorola SurfBoard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0. It’s compatible with the most providers and offers the highest tier speeds for all but 2 of the major providers. Below is a list of the Cable providers and their support for the SurfBoard SB6141

Comcast – Supports all but their highest tier. Compatible with their Extreme 150 Mbps plan. If you want their 250 Mbps plan you will need the ARRIS Motorola Surfboard SB6183.

Time Warner Cable – Supports all tiers.

Cox Communications – Supports up to their Premier plan. Their ultimate plan will require the ARRIS Motorola Surfboard SB6183.

Charter Communications – Supports all tiers

Cablevision – Not supported. You will need to buy the Arris TM822 which will work up to and including their 150 Mbps plan. They force you to use their equipment for plans higher than 150 Mbps.

Bright House Networks – Supports up to their 150 Mbps plan. Their 300 Mbps plan will require the ARRIS Motorola Surfboard SB6183.

Suddenlink Communications – Supports all tiers.

Mediacom – Supports all tiers.

WOW! – Supports all tiers.

Cable One – Supports all tiers.

So as you can see the SurfBoard SB6141 will offer you the most speed and compatibility for the best price. It supports the 150 Mbps plans offered by most providers. That’s triple my speed and I can stream to 5 devices while surfing the internet.

I personally think it will be a few years before we’ll need those 200+ Mbps speeds and by that time the SB6183 will have been replaced several times over. So unless you need those 200+ Mbps speeds today, I’d go with the SB6141.

Telco Internet (ATT&U-verse & FiOS)

If you have AT&T U-verse or Verizon FiOS, you don’t need to have a modem. Both can actually run Ethernet into your house which eliminates the need for a cable modem.

The reason these companies typically set you up with a modem in the first place is to utilize the existing coaxial cable that are in most homes. I have a Fios Internet Only Plan use Ethernet instead of Coax with Verizon FiOS.

AT&T will also allow for using Ethernet instead of cable. This means you only a router. You can then plug an Ethernet cable from their network terminal directly into a router you buy at the store. No modem is required.

Since the network terminals these companies install use 10/100 Ethernet, 100 Mbps will be the highest Internet speed you can achieve using that method. If you require more than 100 Mbps, then you will need to use their equipment. That’s not to say there aren’t ways to use your own equipment, it’s just not supported by either company.

Stop Renting From Your ISP

Renting equipment from Cable and Telecom companies can be avoided.  Buying and setting up your equipment is easier than you think.  In most cases you just need to plug the modem in, connect it to a router, and turn the devices on.  It’s that simple.

If you have any issues, simply call your provider. In most cases the solution is simply a matter of adding you’re modem to your account. So if you are renting equipment, stop now and start saving some of that hard earned money.

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Categories: Guides
Dennis Restauro :Dennis is the founder of Grounded Reason. He also hosts the Grounded Reason Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: Follow Dennis on Twitter

View Comments (20)

  • This information has been very helpful, however as you may know Comcast makes you put a box on every tv in the house. How do you get around that additional rental fee?

  • Thank you for the great information! I recently moved from GA to TX. In GA I had Comcast and it was expensive, plus, I disliked the 2 yr plans. Where I am in TX there is no Comcast and I got out of my contract fairly cheap. Now, I'm looking for alternatives for tv as not to be trapped into a commitment. Any ideas on an HDTV that is user-friendly and not bogged down with apps ie: Samsung? I have 2 of them...

    • I tend not to like the smart TVs. I like the Roku because I can just display the apps I want to use.

  • Dennis,

    Do you have any suggestions for a modem that contains a phone jack for comcast?

  • I find all this info very helpful, but also a little confusing and overwhelming. I am thinking of signing up for Sling and getting an antenna for my attic with a amplified splitter for 5 tv's. It will probably save me a hundred a month after said and done. But the ATT direct tv has me wondering. I have ATT for mobile and was wondering how this compares to Sling. Do you know which is better and more convenient to use? I only want to do this once if possible. I appreciate your help

  • Good info. I have AT&T internet and DIRECT TV. 2 yr bundle period is almost up and no longer getting the promotional deal.
    I bought a Netgear Nighthawk since the ATT wireless modem was fairly useless. Now can have several devices streaming and gaming into far reaches of the house.
    We are moving to a new house soon and I did not know I could have ATT run ethernet connection which sounds like the way I should go since the ATT modem is just in the way.
    Wish I could get a temporary wireless solution in the new house which we already have possession of and are having renovation work done so I could hook up my Ring doorbell to monitor who's coming and going before we officially move in.
    Any suggestions?

    • Are you looking for a month to month deal? Most of those tend to be on the pricey side.

  • We have a new internet provider in Pahrump Nevada. It is Valley Communication Association. The speed is 25 Mbps for $45.00.

  • Mediacom advised us that we need to rent Arris DCX525e modem. I don't want to pay rental when I Can buy one outright. The problem is Arris does not sell this modem anymore. Is there a compatible modem that we can use on our television? Any help you could provide would be appreciated.

  • How about Dish in Las Vegas. I have no phone hooked up a Samsung tv and dish network I want the internet what should I buy.

  • Verizon FIOS requires a modem if you want to have the guide information on your DVR.
    they also vehemently REFUSE to give you ethernet only, though i was able to finagle that option, but didnt due to the fact it would disable my DVR.

    My Verizon account was sold to Frontier FIOS, and they are worse. by far.

    I was hoping to find a compatible modem for FIOS in your article... alas.

    • I don't recommend using Ethernet for TV customers. This is more for those with just the internet service.

  • thanks for the ARRIS / Motorola SurfBoard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0 recommendation - do you have a wireless router recommendation as well? thanks