Owning The Comcast CPE

Motorola Arris SB6141 cable modemFor the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about the Comcast issued CPE that lives in my office. It’s a modem/router combination from SMC. We’ve had the service a long while. All the while we’ve been renting the device for $12.95 a month.

I can’t recall exactly when we transitioned from consumer to business class service. If I assume that it was five years ago, then we’ve paid over $750 in device rental! This for a device that can be purchased outright for under $200.

Clearly, this makes no sense at all. So last week I replaced the Comcast CPE with a Motorola/Arris SURFBoardSB6141. The choice of the SB6141 was made by consulting Comcast’s list of approved devices, and cross-referencing the SmallWall forums where Lee Sharp had some helpful advice to offer.

Where the SMB device is a combined modem+router, the SB6141 is only a cable modem. It requires that I use a separate router, which has been my habit all along. With the demise of m0n0wall earlier this year I’ve transitioned to using SmallWall, a project the carries in in the best tradition of m0n0wall.

Speaking of transitions, installation of the new modem was straightforward. Comcast offers solid guidance on the process. However, in my case the self-activation failed, offering me a phone number to call for further support.

After verifying my account details the technician who took my call needed only the MAC address of the new modem. He was able to get the new modem activated in less than 10 minutes. He was further able to ensure that the modem rental was removed from the account. My final task is to return the SMB device to a local Comcast store.

Our new Comcast bill is a little lower. We’re projected to recoup the $90 cost of the Arris modem in about six months.

Curiously, just after I decided to do this project I read a related story about governmental concerns that cable users are paying too much for set-top box (STB) rental. A recent study finds that 99% of cable subscribers pay the rental fee, which amounts to $19.5B annually to cable providers. Ars Technica has a good overview of this story.