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The downstream information flows to all connected users, just like an Ethernet network. It's up to the individual network connection to decide whether a particular block of data is intended for it or not.
On the upstream side, information is sent from the user to the CMTS. Other users don't see that data at all. The narrower upstream bandwidth is divided into slices of time, measured in milliseconds, in which users can transmit one "burst" at a time to the Internet. The division by time works well for the very short commands, queries and addresses that form the bulk of most traffic from the consumer to the Internet.
A CMTS will enable as many as 1,000 users to connect to the Internet through a single 6 MHz channel. Since a single channel is capable of 30-40 megabits per second of total throughput, this means that users may see far better performance than is available with standard dial-up modems. The single channel aspect, though, can also lead to one of the issues some users experience with cable modems.
If you are one of the first users to connect to the Internet through a particular cable channel, then you may have nearly the entire bandwidth of the channel available for your use. As new users, especially heavy-access users, are connected to the channel, you will have to share that bandwidth, and may see your performance degrade as a result.
It is possible that, in times of heavy usage with many connected users, performance will be far below the theoretical maximums. The good news is that this particular performance issue can be resolved by the cable company adding a new channel, and splitting the base of users.
Renting has it's advantages as well. If something goes wrong with the modem, all you have to do is get the provider to change it. Even if the modem gets fried by a surge in your home, you'll find that you can change it out very easily.
It comes down to personal preference. Do what you feel is right for you and your situation.