How to Tell if Your ISP is Throttling Your Internet

Mohammed Emran /
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As a customer, it’s normal to expect the absolute best from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). After all, you’re paying for it and, despite all the bundles and offers, at-home Internet services can be expensive and a luxury that not everyone can enjoy.

Of course, when your Internet connection starts getting slow, it’s easy to jump to conclusions about why the service is not acting like it should. It could be the weather. Maybe there are too many people connected to the Wi-Fi. 

What most users do not realize is that sometimes, it’s not the weather or the amount of users connected at one time. Sometimes, your ISP throttles your Internet and prevents it from working the best it can. 

The ISP throttling the Internet is nothing new. It’s just that it’s not a common assumption among Internet users. In fact, ISPs throttling the speed of the Internet has become such a huge issue when it comes to online services that Netflix went as far as to create their own Internet speed testing tool so that their customers can make sure that their streaming will not be interrupted.

The reasons behind your ISP throttling your Internet are many. Sometimes, something as easy as upgrading a plan or changing the data caps to what you already have can help reduce the issues with speed caused by your ISP. 

Here is everything you should consider to determine whether your ISP is throttling your Internet performance.

What Is Throttling?

Before attempting to determine whether your Internet is being throttled by your ISP, the first thing to do is to understand what constitutes throttling.

When it comes to the Internet, throttling refers to your ISP purposely slowing down your Internet connection because of data caps or equipment. Basically, it’s a way for ISPs to push customers to upgrade their plans or services.

Throttling doesn’t happen with every type of Internet connection. This type of issue is most common among mobile and wireless users. However, throttling doesn’t tend to happen with customers using DSL, fiber, or cable. 

Common Reasons Your ISP Throttles Your Internet

Though it can be incredibly frustrating to deal with Internet speed issues, ISPs offer a few reasons for putting customers through the annoyances that come with a slower Internet connection.

  • High-Traffic Time
    Despite the advances of technology and everything the Internet can accomplish when it’s working at full speed, ISPs are not always able to provide the same speed of connectivity for all their users. It’s very common for ISPs to throttle Internet speeds for some users when extremely heavy data use exceeds limits during Internet peak hours.
  • Data Limits
    A lot of Internet plans and bundles come with data limits similar to what cell phone plans have for their customers. This means that once you reach the data cap for the month, your ISP will slow down your Internet speed instead of cutting down access altogether.
    Going over data limits can create an increase on your bill, which your ISP will try to protect you from. The downside is that you’ll have to settle for a slower Internet speed until the following month. Or you can change your plan to one that doesn’t have data caps.
  • ISP Choosing to Throttle Specific Activities
    Depending on the Internet plan you chose, your ISP may choose to throttle certain online activities or content so that they can charge higher fees so that your service is not interrupted in any way. For example, they may throttle your Internet any time you’re trying to stream Netflix. 

Is Throttling Legal?

Because the reasons why an ISP throttles the Internet mostly fall within limits of your plan, unfortunately, yes, throttling is perfectly legal.

Most ISPs will actually provide all of the details about throttling in the fine print details. Of course, hardly anyone bothers to read the entire contract. This is why most users do not realize that throttling is even happening whenever their Internet is acting slow. 

Signs Your Internet Is Being Throttled

If you find yourself wondering why your Internet is acting a little different than usual, there are things you could be on the lookout for so that you can figure out what is the reason for the change.

  • Run a Speed Test
    This is one of the most common ways to try to figure out if your Internet is in fact acting slower than it’s supposed to. Take a look at your plan and see how fast your Internet speed is supposed to be. After running a speed test, compare the results to what your plan is supposed to provide.
    For the sake of accuracy, make sure that when you run the speed test, that there are no other people using the Internet connection and that there aren’t any downloads, uploads, or streaming going on.
  • Run a Second Speed Test on a Virtual Private Network
    After running the first speed test on your computer, the next thing to do would be to run a second speed test through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and compare the results. By running a second speed test through a private network, you can really see if your ISP is throttling your service during certain times of the day or when using certain types of data.
    Keep in mind that some ISP can detect when a user is running a speed test through a VPN and will stop all throttling to cover their tracks and avoid the user finding out what’s really happening with their Internet speed.
  • Run a Third Speed Test to Compare All Results
    Yes, it might get a little repetitive to run so many speed tests, but that’s the most accurate way to see how the Internet speed test is performing depending on whether you’re on a public or private network. ISPs can be very sneaky and it’s not in their interest for the customer to be able to tell whether or not their service is being throttled. 

How to Fix Internet Throttling

  1. Data Usage
    If you suspect your ISP is throttling your Internet due to data caps, then it’s a good idea to monitor how much data you’re using per month and either change your plan to an unlimited data one or keep an eye on it so that you don’t go over your limits each month. Chances are that if you are more alert about the data limitations your current plan imposes, you’ll be more likely to not go over them or change them altogether to better fit your usage.
  2. Start Using a VPN
    If you want to try to prevent throttling as much as possible, incorporating a VPN into your daily routine might be a helpful tool in reducing how much throttling your ISP can do. A VPN will keep your usage private and therefore make it more difficult for your ISP to track activity. The one thing to keep in mind is that streaming services like Netflix or Hulu place restrictions on streaming for users using a VPN.
  3. Switch Internet Providers
    If all fails and you are unhappy with the throttling and your ISP doesn’t seem willing to work with you to prevent it from happening, then it may be time to consider an ISP that will better fit the needs of your household. You already pay enough for Internet services. There’s no reason why you should have to deal with restrictions or a slower service simply because your ISP says so. Be assertive and find the best service for you and your family. 

Other Reasons Internet Might Be Slow

Always remember that despite wanting to blame your ISP for Internet issues, there may be other reasons why your Internet connection is acting slower than normal. 

For example, take a look at your modem and router. It’s possible that with all of the changes happening to Internet connection these days, that your equipment is outdated. Most ISPs rent the equipment to their users. Check with them and see if maybe there are any upgrades that might help your Internet be more consistent with speed. 

Another reason to consider is that there are changes in speed when you’re using Wi-Fi vs. when you’re connected with Ethernet. In general, ethernet connections tend to be more reliable and less likely to falter. Run a speed test with the Internet connected through ethernet and see what changes. 

The important thing to take away is that there is always a solution for slow Internet. Follow a checklist of everything that you think might be affecting the quality of your Internet and see if you can figure out what the best ways are to handle the changes. There are plenty of ways to diagnose throttling and recognizing whether it’s happening to you or not. 

Once you’re able to identify the true source for the change in speed, it’s easy to deal with the repercussions and changes that it may bring to your household. Sure, it can be a little bit of a hassle, but nothing you won’t be able to deal with.