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Bandwidth throttling — what is it and how to stop it

There are few things more frustrating than endless buffering, especially when you're trying to watch a show or game online. It could be that your bandwidth is being throttled. But how can you tell if an internet service provider (ISP) is controlling your internet speed? And if they are, is there a way to stop it?

Zen Bahar

Zen Bahar

Bandwidth throttling — what is it and how to stop it

What is bandwidth throttling?

Bandwidth throttling is when your internet service provider (ISP) deliberately slows down your internet speed. There are many legitimate reasons to do this, like managing network congestion or for users with lower-speed internet service plans. However, ISPs may still throttle your bandwidth even with an unlimited contract.

Why do ISPs throttle your bandwidth?

ISPs won’t throttle everyone — it can depend on lots of factors, including what your online activity looks like. ISPs can see what websites you visit and, depending on that information, they can decide whether to throttle your connection or not.

ISPs can throttle your bandwidth for the following reasons:

  • Network congestion: Heavy bandwidth usage may slow down internet traffic for other users in the same area, so ISPs try to curb traffic for those engaging in bandwidth-heavy activities. Some ISPs can’t uphold the promises made when you originally made the contract – super fast internet with unlimited data is expensive to provide for everyone. Due to the nature of online entertainment, many ISPs simply can’t keep up with constant 4K streaming or gaming.
  • Data caps: Some ISPs limit how much high-speed data you can use per month. If you notice sluggish speeds towards the end of the month – you’ve probably gone over your data cap. You can always monitor your data usage by logging in to your broadband account.
  • Paid prioritetization: Some ISPs prioritize certain services over others and allocate greater bandwidth when you use them. The popular theory claims that these services pay ISPs for a greater user experience. For example, If you spend a lot of time on Netflix, for example, while your ISP has ‘fast lane’ contracts with Disney+, it’s very likely your Netflix connection will slow down.
  • Forbidden/restricted activities: In some areas, ISPs may reduce bandwidth for activities that consume more bandwidth or that are restricted for other reasons. This may be to ensure compliance with local laws or simply to disincentive high-bandwidth activities that occupy a disproportionate amount of resources.

Am I being throttled?

You’ve probably asked yourself, “Am I being throttled?”. We will explain how to check if your slow internet speeds are being caused by throttling.

If your internet speed drops suddenly for no apparent reason, your ISP likely throttles your bandwidth. Lagging videos or slow downloads are obvious red flags, but you can simply perform an internet speed test to determine whether you experience any speed drops. There are tons of speed-checking tools available online that are really easy to use. However, some ISPs can artificially inflate your speed test results, so keep in mind that it is not a foolproof way.

Here are the steps to follow when you want to find out if someone is throttling you:

  1. Check your speed with a speed test. ISPs usually throttle bandwidth when users download, stream, watch videos and play games, or during the peak hours.
  2. Connect to a VPN.
  3. Measure your speed once again. If you see that it has improved, it’s quite likely that your ISP throttles you.

Alternatively, you can perform this internet health test to check your connection speed across popular access points and detect slowdowns.

Of course, make sure to check how much bandwidth your internet plan offers to make sure your throttling is not the result of data capping. This is a process where ISPs limit bandwidth due to users exceeding their data limits. There might also be other ways to increase your internet speed.

Check out our video on bandwidth throttling below.

Bandwidth throttling is not illegal in most countries. In some cases, it is even necessary as it helps ISPs manage their network usage and allocate bandwidth. The absence of it could even result in an unstable service or connection disruptions.

However, as with most online tools, bandwidth throttling can be used for ill purposes too. An unproven but popular theory is that big media sites pay ISPs for faster load times; it’s one of the ways ISPs make money. In return, ISPs may throttle competitor sites or favor their proprietary sites, manipulating your exposure to specific sites and information. This has been the core of the net neutrality debate in the US.

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How do I stop bandwidth throttling?

While it is challenging to avoid bandwidth throttling entirely, here are a few ways to minimize it:

  • Use a VPN. VPN will encrypt your traffic, and your ISP won’t see what you do online. It helps in cases when throttling is implemented for specific websites or services. In this case, ISP can’t see that you use those services and curb your traffic.
  • In case an ISP throttles you due to your data cap, upgrade your internet plan to get more bandwidth or try to save up bandwidth throughout the month.
  • If throttling becomes really annoying and unjustified, change your ISP.
Bandwidth throttling infographic

Can a VPN help with internet throttling?

A VPN service hides everything you do online by encrypting your traffic. Since your traffic will look gibberish to the ISP, they won’t choose you first when they look for high-priority targets.

However, no matter if you’re using a VPN or not, your ISP can still throttle the speed for all users during high-traffic periods of the day. Some providers just can’t keep up with the amount of data processed, even though they promised you ‘unlimited plans.’

NordVPN is the best choice to decrease unethical bandwidth throttling based on your online actions. Its ultra-fast speeds guarantee you the best performance whatever you do. NordVPN offers tons of servers to choose from, so you can always find the one that works best for you.

Moreover, NordVPN uses ultra-strong encryption and will protect your privacy.

What else can a VPN do?

VPNs were created to protect personal privacy, security, and freedom of speech. Providing a potential solution to bandwidth throttling is just one bonus – here’s what else NordVPN can do:

  • Encrypts your traffic and protects you from hackers and snoopers;
  • Can be used on up to 6 devices
  • NordVPN has servers in most territories, so you can choose the best one for you
  • NordVPN's Meshnet feature lets you route your traffic through devices of your choice, rather than sending it straight to a VPN server. That means you can use your home IP address even when traveling abroad, and access data and files remotely.
  • It changes your IP, so no one can see your virtual location.
  • Its Dark Web Monitor function can notify you if your leaked data appears on the dark web.
  • NordVPN’s NordLynx protocol guarantees you super-fast speeds.
  • It’s easy to use — you can enjoy top-notch protection with just a single click.
  • NordVPN also as the Threat Protection feature that helps you identify malware-ridden files, stops you from landing on malicious websites, and blocks trackers and intrusive ads on the spot.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN

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Zen Bahar
Zen Bahar Zen Bahar
Zen likes to use her cybersecurity knowledge to help protect the privacy and freedom of others, otherwise, you can find her playing with paints in her studio in London.