How Can I Tell If My Internet Is Being Throttled by My ISP?

The easiest way to determine if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is throttling your internet connection is to run a speed test and then run the speed test again using a virtual private network (VPN). If your connection is significantly faster with the VPN, your ISP is likely throttling your service.

This trick works because ISPs sometimes throttle your speeds when they notice certain types of traffic (like torrenting or streaming), and a VPN encrypts your data so the ISP can’t see what kind of traffic is coming and going.

Of course, there are other reasons you could be experiencing slower speeds than you’re used to. And using a VPN isn’t helpful in every situation. Never fear! We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about internet bandwidth throttling.

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What is throttling?

Internet throttling is when your ISP intentionally limits your internet bandwidth or speed. Providers do this for a number of reasons, and it usually manifests as a sloth-like connection.

Why do ISPs throttle internet?

ISPs have a ton of excuses reasons for throttling your internet. But these are the top four culprits:

  • Network congestion
  • Data caps
  • Paid prioritization
  • Forbidden activity

Network congestion

During times of heavy internet use in a single area, ISPs sometimes throttle everyone’s internet in that area. This makes it so all customers can at least access part of the network instead of some houses on the street having perfect service and others not being able to connect at all. This is most likely to happen during peak use hours from about 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Data caps

If you notice sluggish internet speeds toward the end of the month, it might be because you hit your data cap. Some ISPs limit how much high-speed data you can use in a billing cycle, and going over that cap can result in some bandwidth throttling.

Everything you do online—from loading a web page to streaming your favorite show on Netflix—uses internet data and counts toward that data cap. ISPs usually offer a way to track how much data you’re using through an online portal so you can monitor your data use and make sure you don’t go overboard right at the beginning of the month.

Any ISP that has a data cap has to include that information in your service agreement. So, if you’re experiencing throttling, take a look at your contract or call customer service.

Here’s a list of Internet Service Providers with data caps:

  • AT&T
  • Buckeye Broadband
  • Cable ONE
  • CenturyLink
  • Cox
  • HughesNet
  • Mediacom
  • Viasat
  • Xfinity

A few internet providers without data caps are Spectrum, Frontier, and RCN.

Paid prioritization

Sometimes ISPs throttle certain internet applications—like Netflix or Hulu—to discourage you from using them (and maybe to convince you to use their own proprietary streaming service). It’s fishy, we know. An ISP could also throttle internet service where specific websites are concerned if the ISP wants that site to pay for faster load times.

There are also instances where ISPs throttle certain types of data because it simply takes up a lot of bandwidth (even though you’re already paying for it) and puts pressure on the network. This could happen with large downloads or torrents.

All of this is good for the ISP’s pocket but terrible for consumers. And paid prioritization used to be illegal until net neutrality laws were repealed in 2018.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that your ISP shouldn’t be able to control what you can and can’t access on the internet. With net neutrality, all lawful internet data and traffic is treated equally.

Legislation was passed in 2015 in the US to protect net neutrality. But those protections were repealed in 2018, leaving control of the internet up to corporations who greatly benefit from practices that hurt the free internet and everyone who uses the internet—things like paid prioritization, censorship, and throttling.

We support net neutrality because a free and open internet is imperative to free speech in America.

If you also support net neutrality, contact your Senator to support it and the Save the Internet Act.

Forbidden activities

ISPs can throttle internet connections when the customer is participating in illegal online activities. That’s all we’re going to say about that.

Speed throttle dial graphic

How do I stop throttling?

VPNs to the rescue again! If your connection is getting bogged down because of paid prioritization throttling, you can bypass it using a VPN.

The thing is, you need to be sure you’re using the right VPN. Using a VPN adds an extra step between you and all your data, so it can cause internet speed and latency issues. And some ISPs try to throttle your bandwidth if they realize you’re using a VPN (some VPNs can ignore this). So using the wrong VPN can make your internet throttling issues worse.

Data caps

Unfortunately, a VPN won’t help with throttling caused by network congestion or data cap overages because in these cases, your ISP is restricting the total amount of bandwidth rather than a certain type of data.

If your throttling issues stem from data cap overages, you have four options:

  • Reduce your monthly usage.
  • Pay to add more high-speed data.
  • Upgrade to a plan with a higher data cap or unlimited data.
  • Switch to a provider without data caps.

Network congestion

If network congestion is getting you down, try yelling at your neighbors to get off the internet. Just kidding. You’re better off either upgrading to a faster plan or using the internet during off-peak hours. For example, if you need all bandwidth on deck for a large file download, try doing it early in the morning or late at night when you’ll have a better chance of avoiding a traffic jam.

You should also keep track of your internet upload, download, and ping speeds—especially if you notice bandwidth throttling often. If you’re regularly not getting the speeds you pay for, you should complain to your ISP. It’s possible that nothing will come of it, but it’s also possible that you could get a free upgrade.

If your ISP is too throttle-happy for your liking, you should look into other options. Run your ZIP to compare every ISP in your area.

Other reasons for slow internet

Beyond throttling by your ISP, there are plenty of reasons your might find yourself with slow internet. First off, there might be something wonky in your home. If you’ve ruled out external factors like ISP throttling, check the health of your home network.

It could also be a simple matter of not having enough bandwidth to begin with. As we rely on the internet more and more for everything from home security to entertainment, it’s easy to grow out of an internet plan you signed up for a few years ago.

If you’re not sure how much bandwidth you need, start with a speed test. We’ll give you a quick, personalized speed recommendation based on what you use your connection for.

How much speed do you need?

Author -

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.

Editor - Cara Haynes

Cara Haynes has been editing and writing in the digital space for seven years, and she's edited all things internet for for five years. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. When she's not editing, she makes tech accessible through her freelance writing for brands like Pluralsight. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span.

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