You come home after a long day and decide to unwind with some good old digital entertainment.
You turn on your favorite streaming service, but your connection starts feeling sluggish and buffers a lot.
Fine. You turn to your favorite YouTube or Twitch channels and notice the same thing.
Meanwhile, you have no problems scrolling through social media. What gives?
It could be nothing or you might be the victim of bandwidth throttling.
If this sounds like the struggle of your life, read on to find out what you can do to regain your internet speed.
First Things First: What is Bandwidth Throttling?
Internet throttling happens when your internet service provider (ISP) intentionally limits your bandwidth or speed. You feel this often during certain hours or when engaging in data-heavy activities, like streaming.
Providers can turn to throttling for legit reasons and not so legit reasons.
Let’s start with the legitimate reasons.
1. Networks Need Decongesting, Too
ISPs use throttling as a last resort, especially when they have no other way to prevent network overload. This can happen during times of heavy internet traffic in a single area. Like all good things, it could turn out badly. If the ISP throttles one type of network more than another—like streaming services, this is known as “differentiation.”
>Differentiation is thought of as a net neutrality violation—where not all traffic is treated equally. I’ll elaborate more on net neutrality later on.
2. Traffic Police
The sky’s not the limit when it comes to network capacity. Every computer network has traffic limits. Occasionally, some users or a group of users may overwhelm the network. Inevitably, other users will lose their connection.
To stop that from happening, ISPs restrict bandwidth, so everyone has access. To be fair, ISPs put controls in place to ensure everyone benefits from equal internet speed.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so the saying goes. You’ll get your internet speed, but the quality can suffer.
3. Not Just Police, the Army
ISPs bring the full force when they throttle to prevent DDoS attacks.
DDoS or distributed denial-of-service attacks are criminal attempts to take out a website by flooding it with massive amounts of traffic. For a DDoS attack, cybercriminals hack multiple computers and use them to send this huge amount of data.
You wouldn’t want that to happen. When a server is a victim of a DDoS attack, your ISP’s system signals several upstream routers to throttle traffic.
That way the router drops traffic before it reaches the server, so it doesn’t crash. When the ISP is working this out in the background, you pay the price with a slower connection.
4. Crack Down on Forbidden Activities
Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory.
A lot of countries require ISPs to restrict your internet connection or even cut it down entirely if they are prompted by authorities.
This generally includes perpetrators for crimes like malicious hacking. Authorities can also request throttling if a person is convicted of human trafficking, exploitation, and sex crimes, especially if the victim was first contacted through online means.
Those are pretty good reasons to throttle the bandwidth even if it’s at the expense of speed.
What about the times when bandwidth throttling can really frustrate you? Let’s talk about that.
5. It’s Not Just Parents Who Put Controls – ISPs Do, Too
Some ISPs set controls on how much high-speed data you can use. Data caps can happen daily or monthly.
You could notice that during daytime peak hours or as you near the end of your billing cycle, your internet speed begins feeling increasingly sluggish.
Everything you do online, from loading a web page to watching YouTube videos, uses internet data and counts toward that data cap.
6. A Trip Down Priority Lane
ISPs can and do play the favorites game, throttling certain online services and leaving others “alone”. Netflix and Hulu have been popular throttling targets.
For starters, ISPs might offer their own streaming channel which makes the streaming website a direct competitor. In this case, your ISP may want these services to pay for a so-called “priority lane”. Services that pay enjoy faster load times.
This practice is called paid prioritization and is great for ISPs but terrible for you.
7. False Advertising
That’s why there’s consumer protection. ISPs advertise that they’re offering the fastest internet service. In reality, they can’t actually offer you what they advertise. ISPs can’t offer you 4k streaming or gaming as they promised. Basically, you pay for the service, but your ISP throttles your bandwidth from the backend.
Sometimes, it’s an attempt to make you think you need to upgrade your plan. In reality, it doesn’t matter which plan you subscribed to. It also doesn’t matter whether your plan is unlimited. The ISP simply can’t keep their promise.
So How Do ISPs Throttle Your Bandwidth?
Your ISP is always monitoring your internet traffic.
They can also implement some filters. Imagine this in the context of a highway. Usually, the far-left lane is the fastest while the far-right is the slowest. That’s how engineers organize traffic.
The same goes for the internet. These filters are doing just that based on your activity.
Here’s how that would look.
You could say, everything that’s fun goes to the slow lane.
ISPs can limit speeds for certain users or websites quite easily. By doing this, they can manage data usage on their entire network. So, their customer base increases. While their network capacity remains unchanged.
You might have heard this if you kept an eye out on the news during the net neutrality debacle in the US.
Net Neutrality Explained
It’s a principle stating that ISPs have to treat all traffic equally. They shouldn’t give any preferential treatment to certain users or websites.
The idea came on the back of fear that a large internet company like Verizon could charge you more if you used competing websites or services. The company could even go so far as to throttle the speeds of companies that oppose them.
Take the example of Comcast. It is not just an internet company. It is one of the largest cable television providers in the world. Cable television’s major enemy over the last decade has been streaming services like Netflix.
This means Comcast could throttle your bandwidth if it detects you’re streaming on Netflix.
Where do freedom of speech and innovation on the internet go? Down the drain.
Since 2005, we’ve seen isolated cases of violations. Then between 2013 and 2014, across the US, users suffered from bandwidth throttling. Because of this, the Open Technology Institute launched an investigation that showed the slowdowns were deliberate.
That’s why Net Neutrality rules became necessary. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission approved the Net Neutrality Policy.
This ruling stood for only two years as President Donald Trump’s appointed FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai oversaw a vote in 2017 to repeal Net Neutrality. The issue remains a hot topic for political debate.
With mixed legislation around the globe, how can you protect yourself from being a throttling target?
How to Stop Internet Throttling
Step 1. Spend Some Time Testing
Be sure you’re dealing with throttling, not just slow internet speed.
Sadly, you don’t have any reliable way to tell. You can try asking your ISP, but you won’t get the full scope of the throttling.
The best way to check is to take a speed test on your phone while you’re connected to your Wi-Fi network. Then, compare it to a speed test with your phone carrier.
You can also check how fast videos load on your home connection versus your mobile carrier.
Keep in mind that throttling could be more common over mobile data plans because of bandwidth constraints on the network.
How often? When you suspect throttling, run a test as often as you can. You can also take the test during peak and off-peak times. It could also be worth doing a test when you’re using different sites, especially those you feel are overly sluggish. This also offsets any low speed due to a slow server.
You can also look into websites that do speed tests. Some are also specific to services for certain websites. One example is what Google has in place for checking YouTube video loading speed.
Step 2. Take Action
If your ISP is throttling your connection, you do have 3 options: switch providers, use a proxy, or get a VPN.
1. Switching providers may be the easiest option. For starters, check if it’s a data-cap issue. How?
Not all ISPs have a data cap. The ones that do have to include that information in your service agreement.
If you’re experiencing throttling, it could be worth taking a second look at your contract or calling customer service. They’ll let you know how you can track how much data you have left and if you have a way to monitor your usage.
If you still haven’t found a solution, you consider switching providers. Keep in mind that there are no guarantees that other providers don’t have similar policies. You might spend the time doing the research, shifting to a new provider, and still be throttled.
2. Using a proxy server blocks your internet provider from seeing what you do on the internet. The downside is that your data isn’t encrypted. If your ISPs throttling uses deep packet encryption, then you go back to square one. Also, unless it’s a reliable vendor, you run the risk of viruses and malware.
Lastly, use a VPN.
Step 3. Use a VPN
“VPN” means “Virtual Private Network”.
As the name suggests, VPNs are great for keeping your connection private by hiding your IP address and encrypting your internet traffic.
That way, your online activity is protected from prying eyes, including your ISP. Without being able to monitor and filter your traffic, your ISP can no longer throttle data-heavy activity. Keep in mind that streaming platforms may use anti-VPN technology. Opt for a reputable VPN that can bypass these technologies, like CyberGhost VPN.
Instead of going down the fast or slow lane your ISP imposes, drive on a private road! Your network traffic travels on a privately maintained network. In this case, you’ll likely notice a significant improvement in the stability of your connection.
For all this, CyberGhost VPN is the best option out there. With 7200+ VPN servers in 90 countries, you can easily connect to any server near you and bypass all throttling attempts. Our strict No-Logs policy also ensures that no one, not even us, will ever know what you’re doing online and how much bandwidth you’re using.
Bottom Line – You Can Overcome Throttling
When you get to the root of the problem and understand it, you can usually solve it.
ISPs try to throttle traffic for many reasons, but you can win over slow internet. You can choose to switch providers, use a proxy, or better yet use CyberGhost VPN. The latter ensures you can reliably stream your favorite movies at top speeds, and in perfect HD quality.
Is bandwidth throttling illegal?
It depends on the country the internet service provider is based in, but generally they can legally throttle internet speeds to prevent network congestion or mitigate a cyberattack. The only time throttling becomes problematic is if throttling is tied to deceptive practices. For example, to convince you to direct your traffic to different websites or stop you from certain activities like playing online games and streaming online content.
Will a VPN stop ISP throttling?
Yes, CyberGhost VPN will hide your traffic from your ISP and redirect it through an encrypted tunnel. This way, your ISP can no longer see your online activities and can no longer throttle your bandwidth and restrict your internet usage.
Why is my internet throttled?
Your internet services provider (ISP) can intentionally restrict your bandwidth usage to prevent network congestion or to mitigate the effects of a cyberattack. In other less pleasant scenarios, your ISP can restrict your traffic to save up on costs. For example, streaming Netflix takes up a lot of bandwidth. Unless your ISP’s infrastructure is up-to-speed with all digital needs, other people will start experiencing slow speeds because of your streaming. If your ISP is greedy, they’ll just slow you down instead of upgrading their servers.
How can I tell if my bandwidth is being throttled?
Do a comparative speed test. Test your speed during peak hours and off-peak hours. Test your speed from your ISP and compare it to that of your phone carrier provider. The easiest method is to test your speed using CyberGhost VPN. If you connect to a VPN and immediately, your speed goes up, it’s a clear indication that your ISP is throttling your bandwidth.
Can my ISP tell if I’m using a VPN?
Not all ISPs can. It depends on what technology they use to monitor traffic. If they use DPI (deep packet inspection) software, this will immediately flag your encrypted traffic. They can only “see” that your encrypted data is traveling to a remote server. In most cases, ISPs don’t really care that you’re connected to a VPN server unless you’re based in a country where VPNs are illegal.