How to Tell If Your Internet Is Being Throttled

Feeling like your internet is running a bit slower? Your ISP could be throttling your internet.

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Last Updated: Dec 14, 2023
snail crawling on an Ethernet cable
Even with a quick connection, you can face slower speeds due to throttling. (Image: Shutterstock)
  • Some internet providers save money by limiting your internet speeds, a process also known as “throttling.”
  • Network congestion, exceeding a data cap, and paid prioritization are some of the main reasons for throttling.
  • One of the best ways to detect throttling on your network is to run an internet speed test using a VPN.

Have you noticed websites loading slowly, even after ruling out issues with your internet connection and router? If you still struggle with slow internet speeds after troubleshooting, you might be experiencing throttling from your internet service provider (ISP). ISP throttling is an industry practice in which internet companies limit how much bandwidth you can use by cutting down your speeds.

Throttling is a frustrating experience for consumers because many don’t even know it’s happening. Our guide offers insight into how to tell if your internet is being throttled, why ISP throttling happens, and how to stop it.

What Is ISP Throttling?

ISP throttling is a money-saving tactic used by internet companies to moderate network traffic, control bandwidth congestion, and mandate data limits. By slowing down services and preventing users from consuming the most bandwidth, prioritized users can surf with less lag. Internet signals are often from shared cell towers that individuals within a certain radius of your home also use.

Once you’ve determined that it’s not your router that is causing issues, but rather your ISP throttling your data, you know that internet bandwidth is never truly unlimited. ISPs throttle users to get around limitations and save money.

Why Does Throttling Happen?

Throttling occurs with data-intensive activities like gaming, streaming, and torrenting online. By throttling data, internet companies can take on more customers without adequately scaling their services. While throttling frequently happens with mobile and wireless services, it isn’t as common with cable, DSL, and fiber internet connectivity.

Here are some common scenarios for throttling.

Network Congestion

Network congestion is when too many users attempt to access a network. When the network reaches its maximum capacity and becomes congested, internet companies commonly use ISP throttling to regulate connectivity between users. Network congestion is likely to occur during high traffic times throughout the day or in areas with a high concentration of users, like apartment complexes and public spaces with a free Wi-Fi connection.

Exceeding a Data Cap

A data cap is a number (in GB) that represents the maximum amount of data that you can use each month. Your internet provider is likely to throttle your internet service with a soft data cap if you surpass the amount of bandwidth on your service plan. Data caps are a way for internet companies to police bandwidth usage on their networks. We’ve listed every single internet provider with data caps on their plans.

Paid Prioritization

A more controversial reason for ISP throttling is paid prioritization, a financial arrangement whereby a company pays an ISP to have their data prioritized above other data on the network, like a fast lane. In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overturned existing net neutrality laws and legalized paid prioritization. Critics of net neutrality fear that large companies with data-intensive services, like Netflix or YouTube, could strike deals with internet companies, making it challenging to access competitors’ sites.

How Can I Tell If My Internet Is Being Throttled?

If you’re experiencing slow speeds or intermittent connectivity, there’s a chance that you’re experiencing ISP throttling. Because slow connectivity depends on various factors, the only way to ascertain that your internet hasn’t been throttled is to administer and then compare the results of two internet speed tests.

Here are three easy steps to determine whether or not your internet is being throttled:

Run an Internet Speed Test

Images of three odometers.
An internet speed test tells you what your actual speeds are compared to what the ISP advertises for your plan.

By running an internet speed test, you can compare the speeds you’re getting to the speed that you’re paying for on your data plan. ISPs are known for monitoring and modifying these speed tests, so once you’ve run a speed test on your computer, you’ll need to do it a second time with a reputable virtual private network (VPN).

Download and Activate a Reputable VPN

It’s a common practice for ISPs to manipulate the results of speed tests, so it’s important to re-run an internet speed test on a VPN to get an untampered reading. A VPN is an encrypted connection that acts as a secure tunnel for users to send and receive data on public networks. With a VPN, the content you view online will be encrypted and hidden from your ISP.

Compare Results From Another Speed Test

Once you’ve re-run your second internet speed test on a VPN, compare the two results. If your results are in the same range with and without the VPN, then chances are that you’re not being throttled by your ISP. On the other hand, if your results are significantly different, it’s likely that your internet is being throttled.

How Do I Stop My ISP From Throttling My Internet?

If you have confirmed that your ISP is throttling your data, the next step is to try to stop it from doing so.

Here are steps you can take:

  • Monitor your data usage more closely. Staying on top of your data usage is a preventive measure to avoid reaching your cap. If you find yourself surpassing your cap regularly, then it might be time to look for a plan with a higher data allowance.
  • Use a VPN when you’re online. If your ISP can’t see the content you’re viewing online, it will not throttle you for specific activities. Navigating the internet with a reputable VPN will hide your activity from your ISP and decrease your chance of being throttled.
  • Reach out to government officials. If you’re dissatisfied with the current state of net neutrality, you can contact the FCC to share your concerns or reach out to your state representatives and share how this legislation impacts you.
  • Find a new ISP. If you can’t resolve throttling by your current provider, it may be time to cancel and switch to a new ISP with a higher data cap. We have a comprehensive list of internet providers and their coverage and download speeds.

Is Throttling Legal?

Throttling an internet connection is like a sneaky business that shortchanges its customers. Nonetheless, throttling is a legal practice, as long as ISPs adequately explain it to their customers. On the other hand, failure to inform customers about throttling is illegal. There have been several lawsuits regarding deceptive throttling that have landed certain ISPs in the hot seat for false advertising regarding unlimited data.

Frequently Asked Questions About Internet Throttling

Which VPN is best to stop ISP throttling?

One of the best VPNs to stop ISP throttling is ExpressVPN, the leading VPN, with a network of high-speed servers across 94 countries, and Windscribe VPN, which is free.

Do all ISPs throttle data?

Typically, ISPs throttle only those who they consider to be heavy internet users during high traffic times.

How do I know if my ISP is throttling my Netflix?

Perform an internet speed test, conduct another speed test with a VPN, and then compare the results.

How do I stop my ISP from throttling me without a VPN?

Using a proxy server to avoid ISP throttling may be a temporary solution, but the best solution is to download a reputable VPN.