From time to time, you may notice that your internet connection seems slower than normal. Your favorite websites may take longer to load, your games may lag or you may be stuck watching a loading screen rather than the video you wanted to watch.
These issues can be the result of abnormal traffic causing the website you are accessing to slow down, or they may be the result of internet throttling.
What Is Internet Throttling?
Internet throttling, also known as bandwidth throttling, is when your internet service provider (ISP) intentionally lowers your internet speed below that which is normally available to you.
Considering that you pay your ISP every month to provide you with a connection to the internet, it would stand to reason that they would want to provide the fastest internet service possible in order to attract more customers, so why would they purposely throttle internet speeds?
Why Does Internet Throttling Occur?
There are many reasons why your ISP may be slowing down your internet.
For starters, telecom companies now have a political incentive to do so. In 2017, the United States saw the repeal of net neutrality, a law that designated broadband internet service as a public “utility,” meaning customers were given equal access to all websites. In other words, ISPs were legally not allowed to alter internet speeds to certain websites.
Leadership changes at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sparked a shift in the government’s stance on the role of ISPs and the broader public service. The decision was made to loosen the reins on internet service providers by repealing net neutrality, giving ISPs the opportunity to begin throttling internet speeds to certain websites at their own discretion.
The repeal of net neutrality plays a major role in the reasoning behind why ISPs may throttle internet speeds. However, there are other reasons why your ISP may be slowing down your internet access as well.
Like all businesses, ISPs are motivated to make money, and internet throttling is part of their means of doing so. In order to retain customers, they need to provide a quality experience for each of them, which occasionally requires them to slow the internet speeds they supply.
One reason an ISP may throttle internet speeds is to decrease the congestion on their network. Slow service happens when too much data is moving through the network. This can occur at peak internet usage times, such as weekdays 7-9 p.m., when a large number of users are online at once. Or it can happen during major events when a lot of people are using a sizable amount of bandwidth in one place; the ISP will often lower internet speeds in that area. This will reduce the strain on the ISP’s systems and give users a smoother, albeit slower internet experience.
ISPs may also throttle internet speeds to avoid having to purchase more equipment or upgrade the equipment they currently have. Using techniques like bandwidth throttling, an ISP does not have to spend money on more equipment in order to manage increased internet traffic. It would not make financial sense to ISP companies to spend money on their equipment if their network is only congested during certain times of the day.
Another reason ISPs may engage in internet throttling is to provide their customers with an option to pay extra to avoid having their internet speeds lowered. If the customer agrees to pay the higher price, the ISP will either not throttle their internet speeds at all or will throttle them less. You likely encountered this type of internet throttling when signing up for service with your internet provider.
ISPs may also slow internet speeds if a user has exceeded their monthly data limit. With smartphone contracts, the amount of data available each month is the main metric that the price of the plan is based on. For example, you may be paying for 10 GB of data per month on your smartphone. When it comes to home internet connections, the speed of the internet is the metric the price is based on and data limits are often not mentioned.
While this may appear as though there are no data limits, generally limits are put in place and internet speeds will be decreased if those limits are exceeded.
When downloading extensive files or streaming HD movies or TV shows, ISPs may throttle internet speeds to reduce the load on their network. This includes downloading large files through torrent software or P2P file-sharing applications.
While ISPs are generally responsible for internet throttling, other limits on internet speeds may be at work. One example is bandwidth limits placed on individual computers within a business. If a business wants to keep their internet bill as low as possible by not exceeding their data limits or having to upgrade to faster speeds, they may enforce limits on the internet speeds of the computers within their offices.
Cloud backup services also throttle internet speeds in order to process large uploads of data. They lower the speed at which the files can be uploaded in order to reduce the strain on their systems, just as ISPs do in some instances.
How to Know If Your Internet Is Being Throttled
To know if your internet speed is being throttled by your ISP, you should first check what internet speed you are supposed to be getting. This is often included on your monthly internet bill or on your online account with your ISP.
You can then compare this speed to the speed results from websites such as speedtest.net or speedof.me. If any significant differences are found, your internet speeds may be throttled. Keep in mind that internet speed over Wi-Fi is typically considerably lower than speeds through a wired internet connection.
If you think your internet speeds are being throttled at work, the best course of action is often to contact the IT person in your office. They should be able to tell you if bandwidth throttling has been enabled on your computer.
As for bandwidth throttling that occurs with utilities like cloud backup services, there is likely documentation on their website that discusses any internet throttling they use.
How to Avoid Internet Throttling
In order to avoid bandwidth throttling by your ISP, you need a virtual private network (or VPN). These services mask your internet activity and keep your ISP from throttling your connection when streaming videos or downloading and uploading large files. Your ISP can’t slow down your internet if they don’t know what you’re doing while connected.
The first step to using a VPN to avoid internet throttling is to choose a VPN provider. There are many options available, so take some time to familiarize yourself with the features and pricing options of each one before making a decision. Once you have found a VPN provider, make an account and download/install their app. Then simply open it and connect to a server.
Once you’ve connected to a server, your internet usage will be masked and your ISP will no longer be able to throttle your internet based on your activity.
If you are experiencing bandwidth throttling when using torrenting software or other P2P file transfer applications, then your problem may be solved by using a web-based torrent client.
Using this method can keep your ISP from knowing you are downloading these types of files and may keep them from throttling your internet speed. Browser extensions for torrenting are also available on the most common web browsers.
Avoiding Non-ISP Internet Throttling
If your network administrators have throttled your bandwidth locally, then it may be impossible to undo. You may not have permission to use a VPN on the computers in your office and the IT team may not be willing to lift the limit that has been placed on your machine.
If your download and upload speeds have been reduced by your cloud backup service, it may be beneficial to upload your files in smaller increments rather than all at once. It may also be worth considering using another service that allows faster speeds.