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What is bandwidth throttling and how to stop it

There’s nothing more frustrating than endless buffering when watching that long-awaited TV episode or your favorite team play a do-or-die match. 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

Apr 23, 2020 · 3 min read

What is bandwidth throttling and how to stop it

What is bandwidth throttling?


Bandwidth throttling is when your ISP deliberately slows down your internet. You may have reached your monthly data cap, or perhaps you’ve forgotten to pay a bill. However, ISPs may still throttle your bandwidth even with an unlimited contract.

Why? Some ISPs can’t uphold the promises made when you originally made the contract – super fast internet with unlimited data is expensive to provide. Due to the nature of online entertainment, many ISPs simply can’t keep up with constant 4K streaming or gaming.

No matter what package deal you're on, your ISP may still limit your speed. Although the excuse given is to create a level playing field for all users, battling congestion is possible. The cheaper option is to set everyone to more or less the same speed.

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.

With VPN, you can enjoy online services without restrictions.

Fast lanes for big media sites

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.

Paid prioritization used to be illegal (and still is in the EU), but since the US revoked net neutrality laws in 2018, control of the internet has largely been left to corporations. Unfortunately, this gives some of the bigger providers opportunities to limit visits to sites they don’t approve of by throttling your bandwidth to a crawl.

End-service sites, like Netflix, can also choose to lock or limit their bit rate. Netflix has done this on a few occasions, but the purpose was to provide higher-quality streaming at the cost of speed in order to prevent users from exceeding their data caps. Fewer data caps reached meant higher viewership.

Your mobile data can also be throttled

Just last year, Germany’s Deutsche Telekom was found to be throttling YouTube and Amazon Prime to a rate of 1.5 Mbps. In the UK, Giffgaff and O2 networks throttled YouTube and Netflix to 1 and 1.5 Mbps. The average global speed is 6.8 Mbps. That’s a good reason to use a VPN on your phone.

Can a VPN help with internet throttling?

ISPs won’t throttle everyone – it depends on how your online activity looks. ISPs can see what websites you visit and, depending on that information, they can decide whether to throttle your connection or not. 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. However, you can use a VPN to hide your online activity and, therefore, prevent throttling. How?

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. A quick way to see if you're being throttled is to run a speed test before and after activating your VPN.

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.’

What else can a VPN do?

VPN’s 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:

  • Provides fast connection speeds;
  • Encrypts your traffic and protects you from hackers and snoopers;
  • Has a strict no-logs policy – none of your online activity is tracked or monitored;
  • Can be used on up to 6 devices;
  • NordVPN has servers in most territories, so you can watch your favorite content even when you’re abroad.

Bypass internet throttling with NordVPN. Try it now with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

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