How Can I Tell If My ISP Is Throttling My Internet?
To determine if your internet service provider (ISP) is throttling your internet connection, plug a computer into your modem and run our speed test. After that, open a virtual private network (VPN) client—we provide a list of the best VPNs—and rerun the test. If your connection is significantly faster while using 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. However, a VPN encrypts your data and connection, so the ISP can’t see what you’re doing online.
Of course, there are reasons for slower speeds other than ISP throttling, like traffic congestion and general connection issues. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about internet bandwidth throttling to determine if that is indeed your issue.
What is throttling?
Throttling is when your ISP intentionally limits your connection’s bandwidth. Providers do this for several reasons, and it usually manifests as a sloth-like connection.
Why do ISPs throttle your connection?
ISPs have many reasons for throttling your internet connection. But these are the top four culprits:
- Network congestion
- Exceeding data caps
- Paid prioritization
- Forbidden activity
Cable internet providers sometimes throttle a specific area during times of heavy use. Throttling balances all connections so that certain houses don’t use more network bandwidth than others. Peak times likely happen between 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., although service group congestion is less of an issue now than it has been in recent years.
Exceeding data caps
Some ISPs limit how much data you can send and receive during one billing cycle. They will reduce your bandwidth if your downloads exceed that limit.
Keep in mind that everything you access online requires a download, whether it’s just a web page, a mobile app, or streaming video. Moreover, everything you do requires an upload, too, like requesting access to a website, sending an email, posting to social media, and so on.
All this interaction with the internet uses your monthly data allotment. ISPs usually offer a way to monitor your data usage through an online portal, so you don’t go overboard throughout the month.
Any ISP that enforces a data cap must 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:
- Buckeye Broadband
- Cable ONE
A few internet providers without data caps are Spectrum, Frontier, and RCN.
Some bandwidth throttling has nothing to do with your specific web surfing habits. Here are a few examples:
- An ISP provides a proprietary streaming service and will throttle Netflix, Hulu, and similar services.
- An ISP wants a specific website to pay for faster load times.
- Certain types of data—large downloads, torrents, FTP file sharing—use a lot of bandwidth and put pressure on the network.
All of this is good for ISP but terrible for consumers. Moreover, paid prioritization used to be illegal until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the net neutrality laws in 2018.
ISPs can throttle internet connections when the customer participates in illegal online activities.
How do I stop throttling?
Use a VPN to bypass ISP throttling. It creates a secure, encrypted tunnel between you and a dedicated server. This server then decrypts your data and sends it to the destination in plaintext. This data does not include your IP address or any other information that can link back to you.
However, some ISPs may throttle your bandwidth if they detect your VPN (some VPNs can ignore this). Be sure that you’re using the best VPN for your needs, as the wrong one can make your internet throttling issues worse.
Unfortunately, a VPN won’t help with throttling caused by network congestion or data cap overages. In these cases, your ISP restricts the total amount of bandwidth rather than a specific type of data.
If your throttling issues stem from data cap overages, you have four options:
- Reduce your monthly usage.
- Pay for more bandwidth.
- Upgrade to a plan with a higher data cap or unlimited data.
- Switch to a provider without data caps.
ISP network congestion
If you have cable internet and you experience slow speeds during peak hours, try one of the following:
- Upgrade to a faster plan
- Use the internet during off-peak hours
For example, try downloading large files between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. when most of your neighbors are asleep. On the flip side, if you’re only paying for 100 Mbps and you need more speed, a 400 Mbps plan may be a better option.
Monitor your download speeds often—especially if you notice continuously slow speeds. Complain to your ISP if you don’t see speeds anywhere near your plan’s advertised bandwidth. You may not get the response you want, but you could also hit the jackpot and receive a free upgrade.
Other reasons for slow internet
Beyond ISP throttling, there are plenty of reasons for slow internet.
First, check the health of your home network if you’ve already ruled out external factors like ISP throttling.
Second, your plan may not supply enough bandwidth to your household. As we rely on the internet more and more for everything from home security to entertainment, it’s easy to grow out of the internet plan you signed up for a few years ago.
Author - Rebecca Lee Armstrong
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 HighSpeedInternet.com. 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 HighSpeedInternet.com 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.