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What is bandwidth throttling and how can you avoid it?

Mar 19, 2018 · 5 min read

What is bandwidth throttling and how can you avoid it?

I feel you – there’s probably nothing more annoying than endless buffering when watching that long-awaited TV episode everyone is talking about.

Or struggling with slow connection speeds at the exact time your favorite team is playing a die-or-do match. If this sounds familiar, chances are your bandwidth is being throttled by your ISP.

But how can you tell for sure if an ISP is controlling your Internet speed? And if it does, is there a way to stop it? Let’s dig deeper to find out.

ISPs throttle you, me, and everyone else. The question is: why?

Bandwidth, or traffic, throttling is something that sneaky ISPs (Internet Service Providers) do to slow down Internet speeds of their loyal customers. Bandwidth throttling can happen to anyone, any place and anytime and it has the direct impact on how fast you can stream online videos, use P2P (Peer to Peer) services and do a whole bunch of things when online.

I completely get it – it’s absolutely normal for an ISP to limit your bandwidth after you’ve reached your monthly data cap or are avoiding to pay the monthly service fee. But if you did none of these and still experience buffering at the same time every day, it sounds pretty shady, doesn’t it?

The end of unlimited data

One of the main reasons why ISPs choose to get on your nerves is pretty simple: they can no longer fulfill their marketing promises because providing unlimited data is expensive.

Back in the day, almost all Internet users had unlimited data plans and didn’t have to worry about ISPs controlling their connection speeds. Checking your email or reading some news was all you needed from the Internet. Now the times have changed, and people spend hours watching Youtube videos on their smartphones, consuming massive amounts of data – way more data than ISPs anticipate.

So what would you do if you were in their place? Well, you could raise the prices of your data plans or simply start setting limits on your users’ bandwidth, like everyone else. Of course, you could also go further, like Verizon did: brand your plans as ‘unlimited’ and then set limits anyway.

Other situations when your bandwidth may be throttled

  • An ISP may slow down your connection speed during peak times, when there are simply too many users connected to the network at the same time. If the ISP is not able to process all the data being uploaded and downloaded at fast speeds, it may choose to throttle the connection to maintain a stable service.
  • You may also have trouble accessing certain websites or services if your ISP decides so. Now that the net neutrality rules are gone, ISPs have the freedom to regulate network traffic so that they can prioritize their own services or the content of their partners.
  • ISPs may also limit specific kinds of traffic coming from a particular website or within a P2P network. For example, last year a number of Netflix users reported Verizon throttling Netflix video content. Although the company admitted doing so, they also said it was only performing a temporary network optimization test. Yeah, right.

Also read: Video throttling is already here, and it’s going to get worse

  • Sometimes even end-services, like Netflix, decide to throttle users’ bandwidth. The service admitted it had previously limited video speeds to provide better video quality without making customers exceed their monthly data caps. However, they eventually stopped doing that.

bandwidth throttling

When throttling may turn out to be handy

While nobody likes their ISPs slowing down their connection speeds, there are certain situations when you, as a user, may also want to set bandwidth limits on your own network. For example, if you need to use file-sharing services but don’t want to consume all month’s bandwidth at once. Or you don’t want to slow down the connection for other people that are using the same network.

The thing is that uploading or downloading a large number of files at once requires more bandwidth than normal. Therefore, these activities may cause network congestion and slower speeds. In such cases, bandwidth control turns out to be handy, because you can set the amount of bandwidth allowed for each task or schedule bandwidth caps to take place at certain hours throughout the day.

As you see, bandwidth throttling is not necessarily a bad thing when you are in charge of it. Placing bandwidth caps on your own network can help you organize your activities in a way where your torrents slow down when you are browsing the Internet, and speed up at night or other times.

How can you tell if your Internet is being throttled?

If you suspect that your traffic is being throttled by your ISP, my advice is to run a couple of tests throughout the month and then do something about it.

The ‘Internet Health Test’ created by Battle for the Net is a handy tool to find out if your ISP is messing with your data. Once you click the link, the test will pop up in a new window. Click ‘Start the Test’ and wait a couple of minutes to see the results.

speed test image

Here’s how to stop your ISP from secretly throttling your bandwidth

If the test confirmed your suspicions, there’s unfortunately not much you can do about it. The only reliable way to bypass these ridiculous restrictions is to get a VPN.

ISPs can control and shape your traffic because they see your IP address. So what a VPN does, it simply replaces your actual IP with an IP address of the VPN server you are connected to. This way no one, not even your ISP, will be able to interfere with your online activities.

If you don’t have a VPN yet, it’s about time you get one. Once you have the NordVPN app on your device, avoiding ISP throttling doesn’t get easier than this: open the app and pick a country you want to connect to. NordVPN will route your traffic through an encrypted VPN tunnel, so besides avoiding ISP control, you will also be protected from snoopers and hackers.

iphone nordvpn

You may also like the fact that NordVPN supports P2P sharing and doesn’t have any bandwidth limits. A strict no-logs policy is there to guarantee that none of your online activity is tracked or monitored at any time. What’s more, NordVPN offers easy-to-use apps for macOS, iOS, Windows, and Android, as well as a 3-day trial for you to make sure you are satisfied with the service.

So get yourself NordVPN and go watch those funny cat videos without your ISP interrupting them.


Lewis Lambert Fox
Lewis Lambert Fox successVerified author

Lewis is a content writer at NordVPN and a true explorer when it comes to cybersecurity. He’s always on a mission to examine the tech world through the lens of privacy and share his findings and useful tips with blog readers.


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