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Your Cable Equipment: Renting vs. Buying

UPDATE! This article is out of date – but we’ve got all the answers you need on our Cable Modem Buyer’s Guide.

Saving money on the cable bill is practically an American pastime. And one area where consumers can save — but usually don’t — is with their cable equipment. Because cable providers include rental fees for equipment like modems, cable boxes, and DVRs directly in their plans, most customers don’t even realize that they could purchase some or all of the equipment needed to enjoy their cable subscription.

Buying Instead of Renting Is Your Right

The fact is, consumers do not have to rent the equipment offered by their cable provider. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), cable subscribers have the right to purchase their own set-top device — many of which deliver content through a provider-supplied cableCARD™ — instead of renting a box from the cable company. Similar regulations protect the rights of consumers wanting to use their own Internet modem.

These FCC regulations help ensure that customers aren’t forced to pay rental fees for equipment and that cable companies have to support subscribers who opt to purchase their own devices instead of rent.

Short-Term Expenses and Long-Term Savings

Regardless of the right to buy cable equipment, most consumers’ biggest concern is whether or not the purchase will actually save them money. In the short-term, it will likely cost more to buy cable equipment. Instead of simply paying any setup and installation fees and waiting for the first monthly bill, customers will have to pay for the box and modem they need upfront.

Prices for cableCARD-ready devices cost anywhere from $90 to over $300 — including new, used, and refurbished boxes — on top of the $2–$4 per month that many providers charge for cableCARD rentals. Modems, which are required for cable Internet service, can be purchased for between $50 and $100. All told, subscribers with both cable TV and Internet services could be looking at costs ranging from $150 to $500 to get started.

In comparison, cable equipment rental fees for the average U.S. home are usually close to $230 per year for a set-top box, and a modem can cost up to $120 per year to rent. That adds up to around $350 annually. And because many cable plans have 24-month contracts, consumers could be on the hook for $700 in rental fees over the life of a single agreement. So even though purchasing equipment takes a chunk of change upfront, it can definitely result in major savings in the long run.

Finding Equipment Options

For customers who choose to purchase equipment, they first have to figure out what kind of box or modem to buy. Fortunately, there are several easily obtainable devices on the market. TiVo® has boxes that are compatible with the cableCARDs provided by most major cable providers, and if you’re a Time Warner Cable® subscriber, you may be able to purchase a ROKU® device instead of dealing with a traditional box. Samsung® also has cable boxes available for purchase on Amazon that are very similar to the boxes used by major cable providers like XFINITY®. For those not married to popular name brands, other options include the SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME tuner, which lets users watch TV on up to three devices.

Once a customer purchases their third-party box, all they need to do is contact their cable provider for a cableCARD and then activate their service.

Finding modems that are compatible with a customer’s service provider is easier than finding a cable box, because most big companies — including Cox®, Time Warner Cable, XFINITY, and Charter Spectrum® — publish lists of compatible modems. After a customer confirms which modems will work with their provider, they can find the best router on Amazon to meet their connectivity needs and budget.

Consumers who want to whittle down their monthly cable bill should seriously look into buying their equipment instead of renting. Most pieces of equipment will last several years — more than enough time to make the overall savings worth the upfront costs. Get started by clicking through the links to equipment in this article and see the savings over the lifespan of your cable subscription.

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