What is ISP Throttling and How to Avoid it?
Have you ever noticed your internet speeds plummet the moment you join an online game? Can you browse seamlessly but your Netflix streams are lagging? You may be the victim of ISP throttling.
This practice has seen users with even the fastest of data plans suffer dreadful download speeds when engaging in their favorite internet practices. But what is ISP throttling, and can it be avoided?
Our security and privacy experts will educate internet users on the horribly annoying practice of bandwidth throttling and provide the tools to fight back against your ISP. Read on to find out how a VPN can help you regain your bandwidth and enjoy the speeds you deserve.
What is Throttling?
Bandwidth throttling is the intentional reduction of internet speed on any network. The throttling the average internet user is concerned about is ISP throttling. This is your Internet Service Provider intentionally causing your internet speeds to drop and often without informing you of doing so. It has become a common practice among many ISPs and too many customers simply accept it or are unaware it is even occurring.
How does an ISP throttle your internet?
Think of bandwidth as the maximum capacity of your internet speeds. You won’t always be able to reach the maximum capacity owing to a number of factors, but generally speaking, you’ll be operating at the maximum potential on a typical Internet session.
Your ISP has tools to determine how much traffic is occurring on a network. The ISP can therefore reduce the maximum capacity of your internet speeds thereby lowering your internet speeds overall. For example, if your internet plan is capable of 10/Mbs and the ISP reduces your bandwidth capacity to 50%, you’ll only ever be able to reach speeds of 5/Mbs at best.
Why does an ISP throttle your internet?
There are actually several reasons an ISP may choose to throttle your connection to the internet and most of them are fairly legitimate. Some of these reasons can clearly be found within the terms and conditions of your internet contract with an ISP.
Firstly, an ISP may limit your bandwidth when you have either reached your data limit or have an unpaid bill. This reason is reasonable in most cases. Many would argue that those paying for an unlimited data plan would deserve better bandwidth than a user who has exceeded their 10GB data allowance.
Network congestion is another legitimate reason to throttle the bandwidth of many users. This often results in many users experiencing slower internet speeds such as during peak usage periods – imagine how many users would be sitting down at 7 pm on a Sunday night to watch Netflix or Disney+.
One of the worst practices employed by ISPs is the offering of “Paid Prioritization”. This practice was legalized in the US by the Federal Communications Commission in 2018 and essentially lets ISPs accept payment from companies to ensure their websites load faster. ISPs accomplish this by throttling other users to ensure fast internet speeds for those accessing these “prioritized” pages.
Finally, another reason you’ll often see listed in the T&Cs is the “fair usage” policy and this policy is also quite controversial. Generally, this policy will state that the ISP holds the right to limit bandwidth during peak times to better control overall performance across all users – essentially the ISP has free reign to throttle speeds as they see fit.
Is Fair Usage Fair?
Fair usage will usually come into play when you are using a disproportionate amount of bandwidth – such as downloading large files over a Peer-2-Peer network or playing online video games. The issue here is that this decision is entirely left to the ISP and there is no clear metric determining “disproportionate”.
So, what can happen is a user that regularly plays online video games and has purchased high-speed internet purely with the intent of playing online video games may regularly see their bandwidth restricted. Some ISPs do provide a guideline for the metrics used to determine the traffic that will be throttled, but these metrics can be quite general and difficult to obtain.
Can a VPN Stop Throttling?
Yes, a VPN can stop ISP throttling. Since an ISP will control bandwidth based on the type of traffic it sees on any one IP address, changing your IP address and masking your traffic will stop an ISP in its tracks. A VPN will encrypt your data so that the ISP can’t determine that your traffic would meet a metric for throttling.
However, this won’t always work. Encrypting your data simply makes you less of a target to the ISP who will instead prioritize heavy traffic users. But if the ISP is throttling all users – say, due to heavy peak traffic – then you’ll still be throttled, regardless of your VPN usage.
How to identify ISP throttling
The best way to determine if your bandwidth is being restricted is to perform a simple test. Some indicators of ISP throttling could simply be attributed to the task you are performing and the period of the day. For example, watching YouTube during peak hours on a basic internet package won’t always mean you’re being throttled.
To test your internet health, simply try and perform the same task while using a VPN and whilst not using a VPN. Check to see if there is a significant difference in your internet speeds when using the VPN. You can also use a speed test app to check various service providers – if your results are varying significantly, your ISP is likely throttling your bandwidth.
Best VPNs to stop throttling
A run-of-the-mill free VPN won’t necessarily cut it. Even the best Free VPNs won’t provide the strongest security measures and your ISP may still be able to identify your IP address. The best VPNs to stop throttling are premium paid subscription services that offer the highest grade of security and privacy tools.
We recommend ExpressVPN, Surfshark, and NordVPN as the best VPNs to stop ISP throttling.
Unbeknownst to some internet users, ISPs have total control over your internet speeds and will throttle your bandwidth if they need or want to. There are numerous reasons this may occur and not all of those reasons are always fair. However, a VPN can help internet users regain some control and can help prevent some instances of ISP throttling.