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How to replace a rented cable modem with one you’ve purchased

Time Warner Cable is hiking the fee it charges Internet customers to rent a required cable modem by a little more than $2 a month – but this time, there’s a way for consumers to fight back.

The solution: Instead of renting the cable modem from Time Warner and paying the $5.99 monthly rental fee, buy your own modem.

You don’t have to be a technology wizard to replace the rented modem with one you’ve purchased, and the swap will pay for itself in less than a year.

Ask yourself: does it make sense to pay almost $72 a year in rental fees to the cable company, when you can pay about $50 and avoid them altogether?

At that price, a modem that you purchase yourself can pay for itself in less than nine months. And that’s for a new modem. When I stopped renting a Time Warner modem for my own Internet service after the cable company started charging a $3.95 monthly rental fee, I purchased a refurbished modem on eBay for less than $25. It’s already paid for itself.

It’s a question that more Time Warner customers are likely to be asking themselves in the wake of the company’s recent announcement that it is hiking its monthly lease fee by more than 50 percent, beginning Aug. 19. The increase comes just nine months after Time Warner introduced the modem fee, charging its customers for equipment that it previously provided for free.

The increased modem fee is separate from the $3 a month increase in the cost of its Internet service that took effect late last week for customers who are not receiving limited-time promotional-rate packages.

And don’t worry: You won’t run afoul of Time Warner by purchasing your own modem.

“Customers have a choice – they can opt out of the equipment charge if they prefer to purchase their own cable modem that is compatible with our Internet service,” said Scott Pryzwansky, a Time Warner spokesman.

The cable modem is a small box with blinking lights that attaches to the Time Warner cable line to provide Internet service to the home. A second cable, known as an Ethernet cable, runs from the modem to either the computer or, if your home has a separate router for Wi-Fi service, the back of that device.

Time Warner, on its website, provides consumers with a list of 21 different modems that they can purchase in conjunction with their Internet service. The modems required for Time Warner’s fastest Internet packages typically are more expensive than those that work on its standard – or slower – Internet service.

Prices for the modems on varied from $44 shipped for the Motorola SB5101U, which works only on Time Warner’s slower speed Internet plans, to $129 for the Zoom 5352 modem, which works on their fastest services. Highly rated sellers on offer refurbished units of some approved models, such as the Motorola Surfboard SB5101U, for less than $25. Going with a refurbished unit can reduce your payback period to around four months.

You can find the list of modems that are compatible with its services on the Time Warner website, at The page also provides limited instructions on how to replace the modem with the one you purchased, although the information is far from complete.

Some of the more expensive modem models also include a built-in wireless router that provide wireless access throughout your home, allowing consumers to connect their laptops, tablets and smartphones to the Internet through a Wi-Fi network.

Cable modems with built-in routers, which typically cost more than $100, eliminate the need for a separate wireless router for consumers who want Wi-Fi service throughout their home. But if you already have a wireless router, there’s no need to spend the extra money for a cable modem that includes a router. Making the switch is pretty simple, especially for customers who don’t get phone service through Time Warner.

For those customers, once you have your purchased modem, start by unscrewing the coaxial cable from the rented Time Warner modem and attaching it to the cable port on the back of the new modem.

Next, unplug the Ethernet cable from the back of the Time Warner modem and attach it to the back of the new modem. That Ethernet cable likely is already connected to a computer or a wireless router. You don’t need to change any of those connections.

Then you’ll have to call Time Warner Cable to activate it. To do that, you’ll need the cable modem’s ID number, or MAC address. You typically can find that number on the bottom of the modem, next to the serial number. The modem ID usually appears after the letters MAC or EA and usually has 12 characters.

Once you have that ID number, you’ll need to call Time Warner at (800) 892-2253 and provide it to the customer service representative, who then will activate the new modem. The whole process typically takes less than a half hour, including the inevitable time you spend on hold.

If you have Time Warner phone service, there’s one extra step you need to take. Because none of the purchased modems support phone service, Time Warner will let you keep using your existing cable modem for the phone portion of your service at no additional charge, just as long as you use your own modem for the Internet portion of your bundle.

To make it work, you’ll need to stop by a Time Warner Cable store to pick up a free, two-way coaxial cable signal splitter. Or, if that’s not convenient, you can buy your own for a few bucks at a wide range of local stores. You’ll also need a pair of short coaxial cables that you may already have lying around your home. If you don’t have any, you can buy them for a few dollars at many local stores.

What you do next is run the cable line into the “input” connection on the splitter. Then connect a coaxial cable from one of the “out” connections on the splitter and attach it to new modem. Unplug the ethernet cable from the old modem and plug it into the back of the new modem. Run another cable from the other “out” port on the splitter to the old modem.

Then call Time Warner to activate the new modem.

If you’re not using the old modem for phone service, Time Warner then will ask you to return it to one of its stores or payment sites, which are located in Buffalo, Orchard Park, Cheektowaga, Amherst, Niagara Falls, Lockport, Dunkirk, Medina and Batavia.

Just don’t forget: If you don’t return it, the company may keep charging you the monthly rental fee.