Help with networking/internet access for new laptop

We just bought a new laptop, it's an acer Turion X2 with an 8400M, and it has Vista installed. We're having problems getting onto the net. We have a Motorola SB4200 Surfboard Cable modem, which has two connections in the back, one for a USB cable, and one for an ethernet cable. The USB cable is how we connect this PC I'm on to the modem, and we have no problems with that. Now my girlfriend remembers using the ethernet connection with her ancient laptop years ago, but now the new laptop doesn't seem to recognise the connection at all. When we unplug the USB cable from the PC and put it in the laptop, it works fine. But with the ethernet connection it does nothing.
In case it wasn't apparent already, I know next to nothing about networking, and I barely know the meaning of any of these terms I'm using ;) So what options do we have? Is there some way to enable the ethernet connection, or not? I thought maybe the ethernet port was disabled in the BIOS, but when I accessed it it was the most basic BIOS I have ever seen, and mentioned nothing about ports. Also, the port does seem to be recognised in various menus within windows. So can anyone think of a reason why it's not recognising the modem? Is that port simply not intended for/compatible with a cable modem?
So, if the ethernet port is out, how can we get another USB connection with the modem? It only seems to have one port for a USB cable in the back, does that mean only one USB connection full stop, or do we need a router or a hub or something? I don't suppose it could be as simple as getting a cable splitter that will branch into two USB connectors?
We're looking for the cheapest and quickest solution.
Please help :)
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More about help networking internet access laptop
  1. You can only use 1 connection on the cable modem at a time. Get a wireless router. CompUSA has a TrendNet for $2.99 after rebate. Also, you can change devices connected to a cable modem without power cycling.

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