What Is ISP Throttling? How Can You Tell if You’re Being Throttled?

Slow internet is highly irritating, especially if you’re paying for a package that’s supposed to be fast. Slow internet happens for various reasons, such as Wi-Fi interference or technical issues, but it can also be caused by ISP throttling.

Internet throttling is something that an Internet Service Provider (ISP) performs deliberately and happens regularly. So what is ISP throttling, and how can you tell if your ISP is throttling your internet?

What Is ISP Throttling?

ISP throttling is the act of limiting internet bandwidth or speed. It is performed by ISPs not because of technical issues but because they specifically want you to have lower speeds. You may experience internet throttling at all times, certain times of the day, or only while visiting specific websites.

Why Does Internet Throttling Happen?

It's important to troubleshoot slow internet speeds to determine if ISP is throttling you

First up, internet throttling is legal, and if you look at your contract, you’ll probably find some mention of it. There are a number of reasons that an ISP might take this action, some of them reasonable, some of them less so.

Data Caps

Many internet providers place limits on the amount of bandwidth you can use per month. Rather than cut you off when you are about to use more, they slow your internet down dramatically. This is something that you would have agreed to when you signed up.

This type of internet throttling is often considered reasonable because the alternative is to cut you off and prevent you from accessing the internet entirely. It is also easily avoidable by signing up for an unlimited package.

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Network Congestion

Your ISP only has a certain amount of bandwidth to go around. So, if everybody starts using the internet simultaneously, the network can become congested. ISP throttling is often used to prevent this occurrence. The idea is that by slowing the internet speed of some users, there’s enough bandwidth left that everybody can get online.

Prioritization

An ISP may throttle your internet because you are using a particular website or service. This is usually performed because an ISP has a financial incentive for you to use something else instead.

An ISP may have an affiliate relationship with a specific service and will profit from discouraging its users from using the competition. Or an ISP might limit speeds to a particular service until that service provider pays them to stop doing so.

Neither of these reasons benefits the customer in any way.

Torrenting

Many ISPs don’t like torrenting and will throttle the speeds of anybody that they believe is performing the activity. ISPs don’t like torrenting because it uses a lot of bandwidth and, depending on the content being downloaded, may be illegal. It’s worth noting that many ISPs throttle torrenting traffic regardless of the files being downloaded.

How to Recognize Internet Throttling

internet-speed-test

If your internet is slower than you would like, this doesn’t automatically mean that it’s being throttled. There are many potential reasons, some of which have nothing to do with your ISP. If you think your ISP is throttling your internet, here is how to find out for sure.

Run an Internet Speed Test

Speed test websites allow you to test the speed of your internet connection. They are widely available online, and Speedtest is one of the most popular. After you visit Speedtest, compare the speed you’re getting with the speed advertised by your ISP. If it’s significantly slower, it’s possible that throttling is to blame.

Now, it’s worth noting that ISPs can detect speed test websites and may turn throttling off as soon as you visit one. However, this doesn’t mean that a speed test result matching your advertised speeds rules out throttling automatically. In fact, a high speed test result combined with slow internet speeds while visiting other sites is highly indicative that your ISP is throttling your internet.


Install a VPN

A VPN can slow your internet speeds, but a VPN may actually increase your speed if your internet is being throttled. This is because VPNs prevent your ISP from seeing what websites you visit, which prevents an ISP from slowing your internet down when you use a service that they are specifically throttling.

It’s important to note that a VPN will only prevent throttling caused by prioritization. Other types of throttling will be unaffected, including torrenting. A VPN hides the files you are torrenting, but a VPN does not hide the fact that you are torrenting something.

To determine if you are being throttled due to prioritization, simply install a VPN, and run another speed test. If the speed has increased, your internet is being throttled. So, if you think your ISP is throttling your internet connection, why not give ExpressVPN a try? Use our link to grab a handy sign-up bonus!

How to Prevent Internet Throttling

A WireGuard VPN Illustration

There are many ways to prevent internet throttling. But the right technique depends on why the issue is occurring.

  • If your internet is being throttled due to data caps, you need to either keep track of how much data you are using or switch to an unlimited service.
  • If your internet is being throttled due to prioritization, you should install a VPN. It’s important to test the VPN beforehand because it isn’t going to help with any other type of throttling.
  • If your internet is being throttled for some other reason, you should consider changing ISP. Internet service providers vary widely in terms of both available speeds and throttling policies.

ISP Throttling Is Always a Nuisance and Sometimes Unnecessary

Internet throttling is an issue many people face and is obviously highly irritating. If your internet is slow, ISP throttling isn’t automatically the cause, but it’s certainly worth investigating.

Some level of internet throttling is a necessary part of allowing all users to access the internet. But many internet providers take the activity much further and limit people’s bandwidth not to benefit their customers but to dictate what sites they do and do not visit.

If you believe this is happening to you, you should consider either a VPN or a new ISP. However, it’s important to understand what’s causing the issue before doing either.

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