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As of December 20, 2020, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will no longer be able to charge you a monthly fee for owning your own modem. It’s a law that was a long time coming, and it’s now finally taking effect after being passed in June.
So if you’re sick of seeing that recurring charge on your monthly bill for renting a cable modem from the company, now’s the perfect time to go all-in and spring for your own.
How Do I Choose a Cable Modem?
While it’s easier to just go with whatever modem your ISP provides, especially for the less tech savvy people, there are clear benefits to buying your own cable modem (sometimes called an “after-market modem”).
The first benefit is financial. Saving cash month after month can really add up, and be more than worth it in the long run – getting your own cable modem vs. renting a modem will often pay for itself in under a year.
The second benefit is in performance. An ISP’s modem is specifically calibrated to function with their network and infrastructure, but that doesn’t mean it’s your only option. The modems provided by ISPs are usually lacking in quality, underperforming in areas like WiFi coverage. With your own modem, you’ll also get more channels, meaning that it can handle the increasing number of wireless devices you inevitably add to it, as well as routers to get better coverage all around the house.
This also comes in handy if you’re interested in monitoring traffic on your network, providing you with much more information and more options as to where your bandwidth is going, along with the ability to prioritize devices.
What Are the Benefits of a Cable Modem?
A phrase you’ll see when shopping for the best cable modem is DOCSIS – Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. This tells you the modem’s max speed, which is helpful when looking for the fastest cable modem.
In general, the most common spec that you’ll tend to find in a good modem is DOCSIS 3.0, which can handle about 1GB per second (gbps). The newest is DOCSIS 3.1, which can handle ten times as much at 10 gbps. There’s a huge difference between these and the previous generation, as 2.0 can only get up to 40mb/s (and most ISP don’t even accept them anymore).
The 3.1 is still fairly new, so double-check to see if your local ISPs can handle them. This is an overall general rule for any modem too that can’t be stressed enough – always make sure it’s compatible with your ISP. Doing so will avoid headaches, disappointments, and hours on the phone with customer service.
Compatibility is usually listed somewhere in the modem description or product stats, or if not, go straight to the ISP’s website, where they should have a list of approved modem models to choose from. If you decide to take the chance and go with an unapproved device, ISPs are often able to see what you’re using, and can refuse to provide service to you.
Cable Modem vs. Router
So what’s the difference between a modem and a router? Simply put, a modem is what hooks up your home up to the outside internet, while a router allows all your wired and wireless devices to get onto that internet, as well as communicate with each other. Some units offer both a modem and router combo in one, to make setup even easier.
As for the new law, be sure to check your monthly bill and make certain that you’re no longer being charged for that now-verboten extra fee. An ISP also might try to charge you for renting their equipment even if you’re not using it, so be aware of this and tell them it’s not needed since you now have your own.
Buying a cable modem (and a router) can be a bigger cost initially, but eventually pays for itself many times over – especially with that pesky fee now gone.
1. ARRIS SURFboard DOCSIS 3.1 Gigabit Cable Modem
The Arris’s lightweight and compact design is perfect for workspaces, and for getting the most efficiency and speed out of a small but mighty modem.
It’s DOCSIS 3.1-capable, and can reach speeds of up to 10GB per second, making downloads, VR gaming, and 4K streaming fast and effortless. It also has 32 downstream and eight upstream channels. It can also keep cool under pressure, thanks to holes and vents everywhere that help dissipate the heat.
Light indicators make it clear to see when things are running smoothly or if there’s an issue with downstream or upstream internet connectivity, and when either DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1 is connected.
There are two 1GB Ethernet ports that support link aggregation for faster upload speeds, a Co-Ax cable connector, and it’s a common enough modem that most ISPs will recognize it.
2. Motorola MB8600 DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem
Motorola’s MB8600 is capable of reaching fast speeds, up to 6 Gbps, which is ideal if you’re using a gigabit-based internet plan.
All that power generates heat, but this well-designed unit is loaded with vent holes on either side. Lag and latency are a thing of the past here too. Whether you’re streaming, gaming, or on a video conference call, connections are refreshingly fast and clear.
It pairs well with most routers, as well as ISPs, and features advanced security which is especially helpful against DDoS attacks.
3. NETGEAR Cable Modem CM1000
Netgear has been in the game for almost 25 years now, and has a solid reputation as being reliable and easy to use. A great all-around option from Netgear, this CM1000 is DOCSIS 3.1-friendly, and is capable of reaching speeds up to 1 gbps.
The bandwidth and channel spacing are updated here too, and it streams 4K video smoothly. It’s also compatible with a bunch of major cable companies requirements, and is simple to set up with an additional router.
4. TP-Link AC1750 WiFi Cable Modem
This one’s for the non-tech savvy crowd who don’t necessarily need the latest, fastest, priciest modem. It’s a time-tested and reliable option, with DOCSIS 3.0 and 16 download channels with four upstream.
Most conveniently though, the TP-Link AC1750 is a cable modem and router in one, and is still plenty fast for typical internet usage like streaming or gaming in 4K.
For such a slim unit, it’s got plenty going for it: two USB and four Gigabit Ethernet ports, six internal antennas, and up to 680Mbps download speeds. It’s an overall excellent replacement if you’re tired of using rented gear from your ISP.