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Ditch your ISP's modem and change your Internet experience forever

Eric Geier | Oct. 22, 2013
If your ISP allows it, buying and installing your own modem can net you some sweet performance improvements and a cheaper monthly bill


Every month, we lose the equivalent of a sandwich or a really nice cup of coffee to the modem rental fee that we give to an ISP. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Most ISPs charge anywhere from $4 to $7 per month for the modem that brings you Internet access—and you have to return it when you cancel your service. But most ISPs also let you buy your own modem, which is fairly easy for the average computer user to hook up. Some special modem types—like fiber or satellite—aren't easily replaceable yet, but the vast majority of us can ditch our rented modems and reap some substantial benefits in the process.

The best reasons to switch
Installing your own modem will likely save you money. Though purchasing a new modem requires an initial investment of $50 to $100 (or more for a modem/router combo), your savings on rental fees will enable you to recoup the investment within one to two years. Since most people use the same modem for five to ten years, buying your own is definitely a moneysaver long-term.

Plus, if you shop around you can probably find a better modem than the one your ISP sent you. You rental modem could be an older or even used model that doesn't support the newer technology used by your ISP. Upgrading to a newer modem may give you faster speeds, especially if you're subscribed to one of the higher-speed packages. But also understand your ISP will likely upgrade or replace your rental modem for free in these cases as well.

Many ISPs also limit your access to the Web-based control interface of rental modems, which can hamper your efforts to monitor or tweak your network. Buy your own modem and you'll have full access, which can be useful for checking traffic logs and signal quality or troubleshooting Internet issues. If you really want to get your hands dirty, you can even play around with third-party firmware like Haxorware.

Finally, the most pragmatic reason to buy your own modem is to replace a busted one. When you rent a modem, your ISP usually provides free support and replacement services. But if they can't fix or replace it quickly and you need Internet access right away, it's probably worth taking the time to buy a modem off the shelf at your local electronics store and hook it up yourself.

With freedom, of course, comes responsibility. Your ISP likely won't offer support if you have problems with your modem, and you'll have to replace it yourself—or start renting again—if it stops working. Also, remember that the modem must support your current Internet connection. Switch from cable to DSL (or vice versa), for example, and you'd have to invest in another modem or start renting one again.


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