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How to skip your ISP's equipment fee by using your own modem and router

Tired of paying a monthly fee to rent a modem or router from your internet provider? In most cases, you can use your own gear instead to save some money.

The SURFboard eXtreme is so much larger than a standalone cable modem.
Dong Ngo/CNET

Most internet plans come with at least a couple of additional fees tacked onto their monthly price. In most cases, there's not much you can do about that -- but if you're paying a monthly fee to rent a modem or router, you might be able to get rid of it by buying equipment of your own and using that instead.

Equipment fees and the policies that come with them vary from provider to provider. Some charge $10 or more per month for use of the company equipment, others let you use it for free. A few providers require you to use their equipment -- meaning that you can't skip the fee by using your own -- but most are happy to let you use your own gear and save a few bucks each month.

Doing so is usually a smart move. For instance, there are plenty of decent modems that cost less than $100, and with the average cost of renting a modem from your provider sitting at around $10 per month, a device like that would pay for itself in less than a year, and then continue saving you money each month after that. In other cases, where providers will rent you a high-end gaming router or a decent mesh router for a modest monthly fee, doing so might actually be a pretty decent deal.

So does your provider let you use your own equipment to save some cash, and is that what's best for your home network? Like I said, it depends on from which provider you get your internet. Let's run through all of the top options to see how their equipment policies compare, and whether or not you're in a position to save some money.

Ry Crist/CNET

Equipment fee: Yes ($10 per month for modem/router gateway device rental)
Can you skip it? No

AT&T sits at the top of the list of major providers, alphabetically speaking, anyway. The company requires the use of its combination modem-and-router gateway device and doesn't allow customers to use their own modem at all. That means that the $10 monthly equipment fee is mandatory here and can't be skipped.

Read our AT&T home internet review.

 

CenturyLink

Equipment fee: Yes ($15 per month for modem/router gateway device rental)
Can you skip it? Yes

CenturyLink charges $15 per month to rent a gateway that combines a modem and a router into one device. Depending on the type of plan you sign up for, that gateway will be one of four models: the Actiontec C3000A, the Greenwave C4000, the Zyxel C4000LZ or the Zyxel C3000Z. You can skip that $15 fee by using a gateway or modem of your own, but CenturyLink cautions customers not to use anything that isn't on its list of approved devices.

"CenturyLink highly recommends using one of our certified or recommended Wi-Fi modems (gateways), which have been tested and approved to work optimally with our high-speed internet technology," the company's website reads. "Retired and third-party devices are more likely to cause performance issues and may not connect to your internet service correctly."

And remember, if you're replacing CenturyLink's gateway with a standard modem, then you'll also need to find a good router to go with it.

Read our CenturyLink home internet review.

 

Ry Crist/CNET

Equipment fee: Yes ($5 per month for router rental, modem provided free of charge)
Can you skip it? Yes 

Spectrum includes a free modem with all of its home internet plans, but if you don't have a router of your own, you'll need to pay $5 per month to rent one. The exceptions here are gigabit subscribers of Spectrum's fastest plan tier -- they get the router included at no additional fee.

To skip that $5 monthly fee, you'll need to use your own router, with the usual caveat that your equipment won't be eligible for Spectrum technical support if it malfunctions. You can also use your own modem if you'd like, but make sure to use a Spectrum-supported model.

Read our Spectrum home internet review.

 

Ry Crist/CNET

Equipment fee: Yes ($14 per month for modem/router gateway device rental)
Can you skip it? Yes

Xfinity offers customers the option of renting the xFi Gateway, which combines a modem and a router into a single device, at a cost of $14 per month. You can skip that monthly charge by using your own modem and router.

Pretty much any router will work, but you'll need to make sure that the modem is a DOCSIS 3.1 model. You can find a full list of supported modems here, on the Xfinity website.

Read our Xfinity home internet review.

 

Cox Communications

Equipment fee: Yes ($12 per month for modem/router gateway device rental)
Can you skip it? Yes

Cox charges customers $12 per month to rent the Panoramic Wifi gateway shown above, which combines a modem and router into a single device. Subscribers to the two fastest (and most expensive) Cox plans will receive a DOCSIS 3.1 device that supports Wi-Fi 6, the rest get an earlier-gen DOCSIS 3.0 version with support for Wi-Fi 5.

In either case, you can skip that $12 monthly fee by using a modem and router, or gateway, of your own -- just be sure to pick from the lengthy list of Cox-approved modems and gateways.

Read our Cox home internet review.

 

Frontier Communications

Equipment fee: Yes ($10 per month for router rental, included in the advertised monthly rate)
Can you skip it? No

Frontier provides customers with a free modem and charges $10 per month to rent them a router, but that cost is baked into the advertised monthly rate, so it's not an additional fee that you'll need to pay on top of that monthly rate like with most other providers. That's all well and good, but the rub is that there's no way to skip that fee, even if you already have a router of your own.

Read our Frontier home internet review.

 

Julie Denesha/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Equipment fee: No

Google Fiber customers receive a modem and a mesh router with up to two additional extenders at no additional cost. If you subscribe to Google Fiber's fastest plan, with download speeds of up to 2Gbps, then you'll get a faster, multigig router to go with it, complete with support for Wi-Fi 6.

Read our Google Fiber home internet review.

 

Mediacom

Equipment fees: Yes ($12 per month for modem rental, $10 per month for mesh router rental)
Can you skip them? Yes

Mediacom is a midsize cable internet provider, and customers need to pay $12 per month to rent a cable modem from the company. You can skip that fee by using your own modem, but it'll need to be at least a DOCSIS 3.0 model (and Mediacom recommends going with a newer, DOCSIS 3.1 model). Here's the full list of approved hardware (PDF).

But wait, there's more! If you need a router, Mediacom will rent you one of those, too. The fee is another $10 per month, and you'll get a two-piece Eero Pro 6 mesh router (pictured above). Like with the modem, you can skip that fee by using a router of your own, but this rental is actually a pretty decent deal -- the Eero Pro 6 is one of our top-rated mesh routers, and a two-piece setup typically costs $399

That means you could rent the Eero Pro 6 from Mediacom for more than three years and still pay less than you would if you bought it outright. It's actually a pretty great way to try out a fancy, tri-band mesh router with support for Wi-Fi 6 to see what sort of impact it'll make on your home networking speeds.

Read our Mediacom home internet review.

 

Altice

Equipment fee: Yes ($10 per month for modem/router gateway device rental)
Can you skip it? Sometimes

Optimum and Suddenlink are the two ISPs run by Altice: Suddenlink offers cable connections, while Optimum offers cable and fiber hookups. The company offers to provide customers of each with the Altice Gateway, which serves as both your home's modem and router, for a monthly fee of $10. The exact model you get depends on your specific plan and whether your home's connection uses cable or fiber. Cable customers can skip the fee by using their own modem, but fiber customers cannot.

"Optimum and Suddenlink internet customers using service delivered via our HFC network are able to use their own equipment," an Altice spokesperson tells CNET, pointing to a list of approved third-party modems. "Optimum Fiber service is currently only delivered via the Optimum-provided Gateway, which is designed specifically to work with our fiber network."

Read our Optimum home internet review.

 

Ry Crist/CNET

Equipment fee: Yes ($3 to $15 per month for modem and router rental, depending on region)
Can you skip it? Yes

RCN offers home internet service in a smattering of cities, and the modem and router rental terms vary from region to region and plan to plan. In some cases, the rental fee is as low as $3 per month, but in others, you'll need to pay as much as $15 a month.

Regardless of the price, the rental fee includes both a modem and a router, and you can skip it by using your own hardware (here's RCN's list of approved modems). That said, it's worth noting that RCN also offers "Enhanced Wi-Fi" in some regions, which gets you a fancier router for an additional $10 per month. In some regions, Enhanced Wi-Fi means that you get the Eero Pro 6 mesh router, which is excellent, but in others, it's just the standard Eero 6 router, which wasn't nearly as strong a performer in my tests. 

Customers can also rent the Netgear Nighthawk XR1000 Wi-Fi 6 gaming router for $13 per month, which isn't a bad deal at all given that it usually costs around $300.

Read our RCN home internet review.

 

TP-Link

Equipment fee: Yes ($11 per month for modem rental, $5 to $15 per month for router rental)
Can you skip it? Modem: no, Router: yes

Rise Broadband is a provider of fixed wireless home internet connections throughout much of the middle of the country, and subscribers will need to pay $11 per month to rent their modem along with the antenna that receives the signal over-the-air. That fee is unavoidable.

Rise also offers to rent customers a router -- specifically, the TP-Link Deco M4 mesh router. The cost is $5 per device, so a single Deco router will add an extra $5 to your monthly bill, a two-piece mesh setup would raise it by $10, and a three-piece setup will cost you $15 per month. 

All of that is skippable if you just use your own router. That's what I would recommend -- $10 or $15 per month is a bit much to rent the Deco M4, which is pretty entry-level as far as mesh routers go.

Read our Rise Broadband home internet review.

 

Rick Broida/CNET

Equipment fee: No

T-Mobile offers 5G home internet service, and you'll need a 5G modem capable of receiving that wireless signal in order to connect. Fortunately, T-Mobile takes care of that for you with a 5G modem/router gateway provided free of charge. It's that gray cylinder shown above, and it's all you need after subscribing to get online.

That said, if you have a router of your own that you like, you can plug it into T-Mobile's gateway and use it to put out your home's Wi-Fi signal, instead. That might be worth doing if you'd like to set up a mesh network in your home, but with fast top speeds and support for Wi-Fi 6, T-Mobile's gateway is probably enough for anyone outside of that.

Read our T-Mobile 5G home internet review.

 

Verizon

Equipment fee: Yes with Fios, DSL and LTE plans; No with 5G
Can you skip it? Yes with Fios and DSL; No with LTE

Summing up Verizon's equipment fees is a bit tricky, because the provider offers four different types of plans, each with its own prices and terms. Let's do a quick run-through:

  • Verizon Fios (fiber): The equipment fee is $15 per month for the Fios router, and you can skip it by using your own router. The fee is also waived if you subscribe to the fastest gigabit plan.
  • Verizon High-Speed Internet (DSL): Verizon's DSL customers will need to pay a one-time, upfront fee of $30 to use Verizon's router. You can skip the fee by using your own compatible router.
  • Verizon LTE (4G): LTE home internet customers will need to pay a one-time, upfront fee of $240 to use Verizon's cellular gateway device. That fee is not skippable, unfortunately, though you do get the option of spreading the payment out over two years at $10 per month.
  • Verizon 5G: If you're eligible for Verizon 5G home internet service at your address, then you're in luck -- the equipment comes free of charge.

Read our Verizon home internet review.

 

Windstream

Equipment fee: Yes ($6 to $10 for modem/router gateway device rental)
Can you skip it? Yes

Kinetic is Windstream's home internet service, and the equipment rental fees vary slightly by region, ranging from $6 to $10 per month. Paying that fee gets you a combination modem-and-router gateway device, but you can skip the fee outright if you use your own modem and router hardware. 

The company has different hardware requirements for different customers based on the specific nature of the connection (some DSL subscribers use ADSL technology, while others use VDSL, for instance). Be sure to ask Windstream for some guidance specific to your home's connection before you make a purchase -- the customer service number is 800-347-1991.

Read our Kinetic by Windstream home internet review.

 

WOW

Equipment fee: Yes ($14 per month for modem rental, $10 per month for mesh router rental)
Can you skip it? Yes

WideOpenWest -- or WOW, as the company enjoys branding itself -- charges customers $14 per month to rent a cable modem, but you can skip that fee by using a WOW-approved modem (PDF) of your own. Separately, customers have the option of paying $10 per month to rent a two-piece Eero mesh router (the regular, non-Wi-Fi 6 version from 2019, to be specific). And yep, you can skip that fee if you already have a router of your own that you're happy with.

Ten dollars per month isn't a bad price to try out a mesh system in your home, but that older version of Eero sells in a two-pack for $199, and you can often find it on sale. If you plan on using that router for longer than a year and a half or so, it's probably better just to buy one of your own.

Read our WOW home internet review.

 

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