While most internet service providers (ISPs) strive to deliver a fast service, sometimes, your internet is slow because your ISP is slowing it on purpose to minimize bandwidth congestion, or regulate traffic. This is known as ‘bandwidth throttling’.
How can you stop bandwidth throttling? How can you tell if it’s happening to you? And how can you improve the performance of your internet?
A VPN isn’t just good for keeping your data secure, it’s also a useful tool for stopping ISP throttling and keeping your internet speeds running smoothly.
This all means you can avoid that painful wait for a buffering wheel to disappear, or those long seconds waiting for a web page to load.
A short guide on how to fix ISP throttling with a VPN
If you hide the type of content you’re viewing from your ISP, you can avoid ISP throttling. This is because ISPs may slow your internet speed if you are doing something online that takes up a lot of bandwidth. If your ISP doesn’t know whether you’re streaming something in high definition on US Netflix or merely reading a page of simple HTML text, then you won’t be picked out for using up a lot of bandwidth.
There are other reasons ISPs throttle traffic, but we will go into them later in the article.
A VPN helps encrypt this information and keep it hidden from your ISP, so you can keep enjoying fast internet. Here’s all you need to do:
- Download a reputable VPN from your device’s app store or from the VPN’s website. We recommend NordVPN, as it is fast and reliable.
- Create an account with the VPN.
- Sign in and connect to your desired server location.
- Enjoy your fast internet!
ISP throttling explained
Bandwidth throttling occurs when your ISP deliberately slows your internet. While this might be because you have reached your data cap for the month, or you haven’t paid for your super-fast broadband, more often than not, your ISP will slow your internet speeds regardless of your contract status.
If you imagine the traffic passing through an ISP’s server to be like the traffic passing along a freeway, it makes sense that the more traffic there is, the slower it moves.
Streaming Netflix or using gaming in high definition uses up a lot of bandwidth. To keep things moving, ISPs may throttle, or slow internet service in order to allow users to at least keep accessing the sites they need to, even if the experience is slower.
Why do ISPs really throttle connections?
An ISP would tell you that users experience throttling because you may have gone over your data cap or not paid your internet bill for the month. And of course, there’s the old party line that it is just trying to keep traffic flowing through the network.
But what’s the real reason for all this throttling? Even when ISPs promise unlimited super-fast broadband, the reality is that if everyone is streaming or gaming in 4k, it simply costs too much to supply everyone with the high-speed connectivity they need.
So ISPs react by limiting the bandwidth of everyone using the server, under the guise of preventing total crashes. The reality is that it is just cheaper to set all users to the same speed.
However, you might find that certain types of internet usage lead to more throttling than others. ISPs that have a ‘fast lane’ deal with Netflix for example, might throttle the streaming of content on a competitor like Disney Plus or Amazon Prime, in order to manipulate the behavior of its users.
Some services pay for ‘fast lanes’ for their content, and ISPs happily take that payment. But all this depends on an ISP being able to see what content you are using. After all, your ISP can’t slow your Netflix connection if it can’t see that you’re using Netflix.
Is ISP throttling illegal?
In 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decreed that internet providers must not discriminate against what type of content gets throttled. After much back and forth over the last ten years, it is not technically legal in the US to restrict particular types of content. However, it is legal to offer ‘fast lane’ services to companies that want their content prioritized.
The other issue facing those who still believe in Net Neutrality is the fact that it is very difficult to prove that an ISP is purposefully throttling specific types of data.
If an ISP slows down your Netflix performance, it isn’t reflected in internet speed scores. This means you can lose performance without any way of knowing if it is down to throttling. So even if it was illegal, it’s virtually impossible to prove.
How to tell if your ISP is throttling you
Slower internet at peak hours, incredibly slow downloading and lagging video content are all indicators, but not proof of throttling.
If you want to confirm your suspicions, you can use an Internet Health Test to check various connections for signs of poor performance. If you check the connectivity of the same app that uses different service providers and find you have results that vary massively between each service provider, you can be pretty sure that you are a victim of ISP throttling.
How does a VPN solve throttling issues?
As we have already mentioned, ISPs don’t usually reduce the bandwidth of all their users completely equally. In fact, a lot of ISPs have a monetary incentive to throttle specific types of content. And that means that an ISP needs to know what content you are looking at in order to throttle it.
A VPN encrypts all the information that goes between the server and the receiver, and hides it from your ISP. An ISP cannot legally slow all your traffic to all sites, and if it doesn’t know where your traffic is going, it can’t slow any of it.
When using a VPN, the ISP can’t distinguish between HD streaming and simple web browsing. That means you won’t experience throttling, and you can enjoy good performance on any site, including BitTorrent, YouTube, Twitch and Usenet.
If you mask your online activity from your ISP, that means your ISP cannot move to throttle any of your activity. In such cases, they might even inadvertently throttle traffic to one of their ‘fast lane’ customers.
Best VPN against throttling
There are a huge number of VPNs out there and knowing the one to choose is vitally important. One tip we would give is that it’s always worth spending some money on a VPN. A free VPN can be tempting, but the technology is complex and takes a lot of expertise to maintain and run properly.
Here are some of our recommendations:
NordVPN is one of the most reputable VPNs on the market, and has a strict no-logs policy that means none of your activity is logged anywhere at all. It also has excellent levels of security and has servers all over the world, meaning you can access all kinds of content no matter where you are.
ExpressVPN is another industry favorite and prides itself on its extremely fast server speeds. This is ideal if you’re aiming to get around poor performance due to throttling.
For those still not keen on splashing out too much on a VPN, Surfshark offers some of the best prices available, while still protecting your data and browsing information from your ISP.
To sum up
Like any private enterprise, your ISP is always on the lookout for new ways to make money, and throttling traffic to certain online services for a price is an easy and hard-to-track way of bringing in paying clients who want their sites to run smoothly.
If you care about guaranteeing good quality internet, then a VPN is a really good option for avoiding ISP throttling.
It’s not just a matter of guaranteeing fast internet. Downloading and using a VPN can stop your internet behavior from being manipulated by your ISP as you browse. This means you won’t get a different quality of service no matter what content you’re accessing.
Yes, a VPN will stop ISP throttling as it will hide the content you are viewing from your ISP. Your ISP can’t throttle your internet connection across all services, so if it can’t see what you are doing, it won’t throttle any.
You can either:
1. Upgrade your package or plan with your ISP, or
2. Use a proxy server to hide what you are accessing from your ISP
Use a reputable VPN to bypass ISP throttling and access the fastest servers. This will prevent your ISP from being able to throttle your internet connection, no matter what site you are on.
VPNs are entirely legal in the UK and the US. But online activities that are illegal without the use of a VPN are still illegal if you use a VPN.