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How to Tell if Your Internet Is Being Throttled

The bottom line: throttling is common on mobile and wireless services, but not very common with cable, DSL, or fiber. The only way to reliably test if you’re being throttled is with a VPN service.

It’s frustrating to run a speed test and see that you’re getting less speed than you’re paying for. The question is: are you being throttled? Or is it some other issue?

Why Is My Internet Slow?

Throttling is one of many potential bottlenecks that can slow down a consumer Internet connection.

Most of the time, the issue is something to do with your modem and router — they might need a restart, or be too old to function properly.

The second most common issue is “peak use” slowdowns from other customers. It’s normal for cable Internet to slow down around 30% from 5–9PM, when everyone in the neighborhood starts their nightly Netflix binge.

Finally, keep in mind that it’s normal for Internet connections to slow down when you’re on WiFi vs plugged in with ethernet. Connect your computer to the router with ethernet and run a speed test to see if the speed is still reduced.

Go through the checklist below to check if there’s another issue before assuming you’re being throttled:

Check for Throttling Checklist

  • Reset your router. Occasionally, the equipment just needs a reboot to get your connection back up to speed.
  • Connect via Ethernet cable to see if it’s a problem with your WiFi
  • Connect via another device to see if the problem is isolated to one computer.
  • Check for viruses with a reputable antivirus and malware scanner
  • Call your service provider to see if they can detect a technical issue.

To continue trying to diagnose your connection issues in greater detail, you can check out our more comprehensive WiFi troubleshooting guide.

If you’ve run through the checklist above and you’re still experiencing connection issues, it’s possible that your connection is being throttled.

What Is Throttling Data?

Throttling is the process of an ISP purposely slowing down an internet user’s data transmission. Sometimes you’ll see lower speeds that are difficult to explain and aren’t attributed to equipment issues. You won’t always receive a clear notification that your connection is throttled despite rules that pressure telecom companies to inform you, so the uncertainty regarding your slower connection can be incredibly frustrating.

Currently, you’ll usually see a throttling of your entire connection, but with the repeal of Net Neutrality, some people worry that ISPs may start throttling specific types of content. This is not yet a common issue.

Why Do ISPs Throttle Data?

There are multiple reasons why an ISP might throttle data, and many are reasonable.

Many people have data limits on their internet connections. When they exceed the provided allowance, their speeds will often be drastically reduced. Instead of cutting off access to internet service completely, ISPs instead prioritize customers that are within the terms of their plan. The slower speeds can be incredibly annoying, but it’s definitely preferable to losing the ability to surf the web completely.

While bandwidth isn’t usually an issue for major internet providers, the fact remains that it is a finite resource. With extremely heavy data use that exceeds allowances, ISPs may need to throttle connections in order to provide high speeds to the rest of their customers.

With the repeal of Net Neutrality, the ability of an ISP to throttle may be expanded, adding the ability to throttle specific types of content or to charge higher fees to major data users such as streaming services like Netflix. If costs are increased dramatically for these content providers, the costs of paying off ISPs may be passed down to you.

Is Internet Throttling Legal?

Is throttling legal? As of 2018, their aren't many legal protections against throttling, although consumer outrage when ISPs do throttle specific services generally keeps the practice in check.

In most cases, the throttling of an internet connection is legal. One common reason that data is throttled is due to excess use on a plan with a data cap. In almost all cases, ISPs are obligated to inform consumers when they throttle connections.

Back in 2015, US courts ruled that companies could not prioritize different streams of data with “internet fast lanes,” or penalize customers for not upgrading to a faster plan. [1] With the repeal of Net Neutrality, these provisions have basically been gutted, making regulations around selective throttling nearly non-existent. [ref]https://www.fcc.gov/restoring-internet-freedom ↩︎[/ref]

Despite the repeal of these protections, ISPs generally still have to inform customers when they throttle data. Outside of the obligation to provide notification, however, these companies now have much fewer limits when it comes to prioritizing content and charging customers for priority connections.

Many ISPs have made a pledge to treat the greater freedom responsibly, in spite of past issues with blocking select services.

How To Check If Your ISP Is Throttling Bandwidth

Note that throttling results in extremely low download speeds, while more common issues like Netflix congestion only cause a 10–40% speed reduction.

The most obvious way to check your internet connection at first glance would be with one of the numerous speed tests available online, but some companies have actually managed to develop systems that artificially inflate your speeds specifically during these tests — giving you results that are far from accurate.

The only reliable method of checking whether your connection is being throttled is through a Virtual Private Network, also known as a VPN.

ISPs may sometimes throttle specific types of content, and a Virtual Private Network can make this practice next to impossible by masking your activity from your ISP. Your traffic is often routed through a different path than it would normally take as well, which should give you a more neutral reading as you bypass the direction that the data would normally flow when using your connection normally.

With your ISP forced to treat all of your content equally due to the inability to discern what sort of websites you’re viewing, you should be able to measure your true speeds using one of the tests mentioned above.

If your speeds are significantly lower than you would expect and you can’t explain the problem after following the steps in the troubleshooting section above, odds are that your connection is being throttled.

How To Fix Data Throttling

Unfortunately, in a lot of cases there isn’t much you can do about the practice of throttling. If you’ve exceeded your data limit on a capped plan, you can usually avoid the issue by better monitoring your usage moving forward or switching to a plan with higher data allowances. If your data is supposed to be “unlimited,” however, there may not be an easy fix.

VPNs can offer a viable solution, but there are certain sites that will block your connection if using these services due to an inability to accurately discern your location. Some famous sites that will block access include streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that deliver region-locked content due to the difficulty of obtaining universal rights. These blocks are generally implemented through banning IP addresses, and we do not recommend using a VPN to access illegal content.

If these solutions don’t work for you, the only real recourse that remains is to try to convince representatives and Federal Communications Commission officials to fight for a more open internet. By submitting an FCC comment voicing your concerns or contacting your congressperson, you can add your voice to the many fighting against predatory throttling and content prioritization.

  • Author: BroadbandNow Team
  • Last updated: 8/29/2018

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