Bandwidth throttling can negatively affect many professional and casual internet users.
Nothing is worse than sitting around enjoying your favorite TV show on Netflix in all its 4K glory and then, suddenly, you notice that the video quality has dropped, and the picture isn’t as sharp as it was a few moments ago. You go and check your internet speed and notice that, despite paying for a 100Mbps connection, you’re only getting 20Mbps download speed.
How is this happening, and what’s causing it?
What is Bandwidth Throttling?
Bandwidth throttling is a practice of ISPs purposely slowing down your internet connection when you are using a high amount of data, or when it’s peak time and there are a lot of people trying to use the internet at the same time.
Bandwidth throttling slows down your internet connection so that you aren’t able to use as much bandwidth at a given time, meaning that your access to certain websites, particularly video-streaming sites such as YouTube and Netflix—is a lot more sluggish and slow. Even though you’re paying for (up to) 100Mbps, that does not mean that your ISP must provide that speed round-the-clock.
Why Do ISPs Throttle Your Connection?
One of the more common and less annoying reasons for ISPs to throttle connections is so that more of their customers can use the internet at any given time, rather than enabling a handful of users to access fast speeds and leaving everybody else to deal with slow speeds (note: it is also theoretically possible for ISPs to purposefully impose that latter undesirable situation in jurisdictions that lack robust net neutrality protections).
But in the more common and less annoying case, you can think of the internet as a roadway. During peak times, the road fills up, and you can’t get from A to B as quickly as you would during non-peak hours. This is exactly what’s happening most of the time when your ISP is throttling your connection.
Throttling can also take place when your ISP thinks that you are using too much data within a given time period, or when you have reached your monthly data cap. Any ISP is currently within their right to throttle your connection at any time, for any reason. It is not uncommon for ISPs to only throttle specific services, too.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that these services often include video sharing and streaming services. But that is exactly why people would have a use for an article like this, to help them cope with any bandwidth throttling that they are experiencing.
Through bandwidth throttling, ISPs can force the type of behavior they want out of their customers. Bandwidth usage costs money, and they want to use as little data as possible.
How to Tell When Your Bandwidth is Being Throttled
It’s usually obvious when your ISP is throttling your connection. After a particularly long Netflix session, you may notice that you can no longer stream in 4K or HD or, if you have been downloading a lot of stuff, you may see that your download speeds have reduced to only a quarter of what you were getting before.
These are only minor indicators, however, and there are other (more solid) methods you can use to figure out whether you’re being throttled. The Internet Health Test, for instance, is a service which performs diagnostics on your connection and tests your ISP’s speeds across multiple points.
How to Stop Bandwidth Throttling
There are a couple of prominent ways that you can stop your ISP from throttling your connection:
This is the old-school solution. Proxy servers tend to be free of charge and can be accessed through an internet browser; however, they offer relatively slow download speeds. There are some premium proxy servers, but you may as well go for a VPN if you are going to opt for a premium service.
Proxy servers tend to be faster than VPNs and are often available for free, but VPNs are still generally preferable as they fully encrypt your traffic and tend to offer a more stable connection. Moreover, proxy servers only work with web browsers. So if you’re enjoying Netflix on your TV or a PlayStation, a proxy will be of no use to you.
If you experience ISP throttling on a regular basis regularly, a good VPN should be your go-to solution. VPNs are becoming more commonplace and are now used by everyday internet users. What was once viewed as a relatively questionable technology is now seen as more of a necessity, as privacy becomes a serious concern for consumers and major corporations all around the globe.
A VPN prevents bandwidth throttling by masking your internet presence. It hides your IP address and allows you to switch between virtual locations. This helps in situations when ISPs throttle specific services such as Netflix or P2P traffic. When using a VPN, your ISP won’t be able to track your online activities in any way—since a VPN encrypts all communication-related traffic. However, a VPN cannot protect you from monthly data caps because ISPs can still see how much data you’re using; they just can’t associate the original source of the data with its ultimate destination.
Bandwidth throttling is a common tactic used by ISPs to prevent their customers from using what they deem to be too much data. Different ISPs have different throttling policies—some will throttle specific services, whereas others will only throttle your connection when you have used a predefined amount of data, or when the network is busy. Regardless of the relevant policy, bandwidth throttling can be avoided to a certain extent through the use of proxy servers or VPNs.