EVIL Internet Throttling: How to Detect and AVOID Throttling

Anyone whose ever been over-charged on their telecom bill and had to spend 6 hours on hold with their ISP, only to be told they’ve been connected to the wrong office and they’ll have to call back the next day, already has a burning hatred in their hearts for telecom and mobile companies. It’s become so synonymous with that industry that it’s almost a rite of passage at this point, a cultural milestone in the journey of life, if you will…

So, when you hear that these same companies might be throttling your internet connection and causing you to lag in video games, or causing your Netflix to constantly buffer, or any number of the other signs of a poor internet connection, it’s completely normal to feel a burning rage.

Before we let our anger overtake us completely, let’s figure out exactly what ISP throttling is, how to detect it (to make sure our annoyance is directed at the right place), and most importantly how to fix it.

What does ISP internet throttling mean?

Throttling is a tool used by internet service providers to limit the amount of data you’re able to use in a given moment.

Note: Throttling is different than your monthly bandwidth limits, for example of you have a cellphone with a 20GB plan. That’s the total amount of data you can use in a month.

Whether you have a plan that allows for a limited amount of monthly data transfer, or you have an unlimited plan, you aren’t immune from throttling.

isp throttling

That’s one of the biggest issues. An ISP will sell you a home internet or cellphone plan that advertises unlimited data. But then you’ll go and try to use the internet, and you’ll find that it’s so slow. So, so slow.

What good is a “unlimited bandwidth” when it’s so slow that it isn’t even useable?

Internet throttling isn’t the only thing that can cause your internet connection to be terribly slow, though. There’s also network congestion.

If you live in a busy area, or have insufficient network infrastructure in your building or neighborhood, then you can also experience a very slow connection that feels a lot like throttling.

If you’ve ever lived in an apartment building and had to deal with a cold shower because there wasn’t any hot water left for the building, that’s similar to network throttling. If everyone comes home from work and tries to stream HD video right away, and the infrastructure can’t handle that, then people will have their connections throttling in a more “organic” way than when an ISP intentionally throttles you.

On the other hand, if you’re paying for a service and the ISP hasn’t put proper infrastructure in place to handle high-loads throughout the day, then it’s like they’re throttling you via neglect.

Is It ISP Throttling or Network Congestion? Here’s How to Tell…

Here are some signs that you are dealing with throttling or network congestion. This table will help you determine which is which, and then we’ll get into how to fix it.

Signs of ThrottlingSigns of Network Congestion
Slow down is consistent, not just at certain times of the day.Slows down during peak usage times (typically evenings and weekends).
Speeds don’t return during off-peak usage hours.Speeds up during off-peak hours.
You’ve been using a lot more data than usual lately which could trigger throttling.It affects everyone on the network, not just you and your own device(s).
You have exceeded your monthly data usage cap. You aren’t using a particularly high amount of data, no more than usual.
It’s only affecting you or your device, not other customers on the same network (most notable with mobile data).You live in a densely populated area that has outdated network infrastructure.

Be aware: If you have trouble with your internet connection and it doesn’t seem to match up with throttling or network congestion, there could be a different problem with your connection or your device.

How to Avoid Internet Throttling

The best way to avoid throttling will depend on what type of throttling you’re dealing with. If your ISP is deprioritizing certain apps and throttling those, then it’s an easier fix. If it’s blanket-throttling that affects all of your internet traffic, you may have to take some more drastic steps.

Does a VPN help with throttling?

We’ve come across many articles claiming that getting a VPN is the magical solution to fix throttling, but the only way it’ll really help you is if your ISP is throttling specific apps. For example if data received from Netflix is deprioritized, then using a VPN can mask the fact that the data is coming from Netflix so your ISP won’t be able to slow it down.

But this is far from a perfect solution. At the end of the day, if there’s only a certain amount of data making it through from your ISP to your device, then a VPN isn’t going to be able to bypass that. Whether the incoming traffic is encrypted and passed through a VPN, or just regular old internet data, there’s only so much of it that can fit through the so-called pipe at any given moment.

The same applies if your ISP is throttling specific websites and not just specific apps, in those cases a VPN may also help you avoid being throttled.

A VPN can be useful for a number of things, and in a very specific use-case that isn’t all that common, a VPN may even help with throttling, but this isn’t really where VPNs shine and probably not a convincing enough reason to buy one. It’s disappointing to see many websites promoting VPNs as a way to solve most or all issues with throttling when that simply isn’t true.

And finally, using a VPN will often slow down your internet connection.

In conclusion, a VPN is not a great solution for throttling.

Other Ways to Fix Internet Throttling

Chances are that if you look at the fine print of your contract, it’ll mention something or other that allows your ISP to throttle your traffic.

If you live in a country that doesn’t have regulations against throttling, your best beet is to let your wallet do the speaking. If you live in an area where there’s seemingly a monopoly or all the ISP’s are equally terrible, your best bet is to move, unfortunately.

Now, with that said, I don’t want to be too doom and gloom. Some ISP’s are starting to sell plans that guarantee no throttling.

I wish there was an easy fix for this. Unfortunately since your ISP controls the data that enters and leaves your network to and from the internet at large, you’re at their mercy.

It feels disgusting to find out that your internet connection is being throttled to below the advertised speeds due to a fine-print, and even worse that you have to but a specific “no throttling” plan and just trust them that it’ll be better this time.

In summary, your options to fix or avoid data throttling are:

  • Get a new internet provider,
  • Move somewhere with a better internet provider,
  • Buy a “no-throttle” plan if it’s even available,
  • Or maybe, in some very specific cases, use a VPN.

A few more things you should know about throttling…

ISP’s use throttling it to manage the resources of their network, to enforce soft data caps (where your first X amount of data is not throttled, and anything after that limit is throttled), and to deal with users who use ridiculous amounts of data (like if they’re hosting file-servers or just downloading and uploading things 24/7).

There’s something called “zero-rating”, which refers to apps or sites or other online services that don’t count towards your data usage or contribute towards throttling. These are selected by your ISP. This may be used as a promotion, for example if an ISP says they don’t throttle any streaming services, then they may be a good option for someone who streams a lot but doesn’t play online games, connect to work networks for data-intensive tasks, edit videos remotely, upload and download large files, or anything else that uses a lot of bandwidth outside of streaming.

Is throttling always bad?

Throttling has a bad reputation. From the point of view of the ISP, they love throttling and they think it’s amazing!

It allows them to reduce their costs on a whim, either by neglecting to upgrade their infrastructure in high-demand areas, or by selling an unlimited plan and then cutting off the people who use it the most.

It would be like an all-you-can-eat buffet that kicks people out after they finish their first plate of food.

But there’s an example of a time when throttling is good. Throttling can be used to to help mitigate a DDoS attack that takes down a website or service by inundating it with incredible amounts of traffic and connections at once.

Anyway, I hope this write-up has helped give you some insights into to throttling and has helped to identify what might be causing your internet issues.

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About the Author

Ken Jayes is a lifelong tech enthusiast. He's the guy who family and friends call when their tech isn't working. With his role as the main contributor to RSSCloud.org, Ken is now your tech guy, too.