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For the Love of God, Stop Renting Routers From Comcast

A bug in Comcast’s router and modem activation process potentially exposed the private data of millions of customers who rented hardware from the company.
Image: Shutterstock

Millions of consumers continue to pay cable companies like Comcast a monthly fee to rent a modem or gateway (a combination modem and WiFi router)—and Comcast keeps proving that's a really bad idea.

From the company’s arbitrary and unnecessary broadband caps and overage fees to all manner of sneaky below-the-line surcharges, Comcast has made an art form of advertising one price, then socking consumers with significantly higher rates once the bill comes due. As a result, the company is facing several ongoing lawsuits for misleading billing. One of the most profitable surcharges for America’s biggest cable provider is the fee it charges users to rent a modem, router, or gateway. Comcast has slowly but surely jacked up this rental fee over the years. After yet another price hike at the beginning of 2018, Comcast now charges customers $11 a month to rent both modems and gateways. Over time, users wind up paying Comcast significantly more money than the modem or router is worth. One analyst estimated that Comcast makes between $275 million and $300 million each and every quarter just from these rental fees. And given that Comcast buys hardware in bulk, it’s estimated the company pays as little as $40 for each modem. Those turned off by Comcast’s reputation as one of the least liked companies in America should do themselves (or a loved one) a favor and stop unnecessarily padding the company’s bottom line. While the company doesn’t like to advertise the option, users have the ability to buy their own modem or router, provided it’s on the company’s list of acceptable devices known to play nice with the Comcast network (the same is true for Charter Spectrum.) Many of these devices can be bought for a pittance via online retailers, and even less if acquired second hand. Unsurprisingly, Comcast’s historically abysmal customer service can sometimes make this more challenging than it should be. For example, the company has long had a nasty habit of charging users the rental fee even if they own their own modem, requiring users keep an eye on their bill.

Even if you own your own modem, the company may still try to charge up to $90 for a professional installation, even if you’re the one doing all of the work.

While it may require a little elbow grease to keep Comcast in line, owning your own hardware is still worth it. Not only it will it save you a significant amount of money, it gives you greater control over your network and private data. For example, Comcast was sued back in 2014 for rolling out a router update that turned user home routers into publicly-accessible hotspots. And while customers were supposed to be able to disable the feature, many say the functionality often didn’t work, and the company didn’t adequately inform users that the new feature was being deployed. And this week, it was revealed that a bug in Comcast’s website used to activate the company’s routers potentially exposed millions of users’ private data. The bug allowed an attacker to potentially obtain the home address where the router is located, as well as the Wi-Fi name and password of users’ routers (in plaintext). Users who own their own hardware weren’t impacted by Comcast’s latest security blunder. If you like unnecessarily throwing money at some of the least-liked companies in America, by all means continue. But if you’d prefer to save money and have greater control over your own gear and private data, go buy your own hardware, then follow our Motherboard guide to keeping your router safe from unwanted intruders.