If you’re experiencing slower internet speeds than you’re accustomed to, you may be browsing during a peak usage time, using equipment that needs attention or competing with other users in your home for bandwidth. another common reason for lagging speeds is internet throttling, the act of intentionally slowing internet speeds by your internet provider.
What is throttling?
Internet throttling is when your internet service provider limits your bandwidth or slows your connection to certain online activities after you’ve reached a monthly limit, commonly referred to as a data cap.
This industry practice can be especially annoying for those that utilize their internet connection for gaming, video streaming and file downloads. Once your ISP begins to throttle your connection, you may experience buffering while streaming services like YouTube or Netflix as well as lags or delays in gaming and file transfers.
Why do ISPs throttle internet and is throttling illegal?
Internet service providers throttle speeds for a number of reasons. Some internet plans come with data restrictions to limit monthly data usage. When consumers reach this limit before the data cap resets, instead of cutting off the internet connection altogether, providers drastically reduce a household’s internet speeds to give priority bandwidth to homes that are still within their data cap. In most instances, internet throttling is perfectly legal as long as the provider makes the customer aware.
“Throttling often is done without users explicitly opting in, and disclosures are often in fine print, so many users may have no idea this is happening and may have no option to turn it off except to pay even more, ” said David Choffnes, assistant professor in the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University.
Choffnes and a team from Northeastern University worked with a team from the University of Massachusetts to investigate throttling of video content by mobile and fixed-line providers using an app they developed, Wehe.
How to tell if your internet is being throttled
Here are a few steps to quickly and easily find out if you’re experiencing internet throttling.
Run a speed test
Select a third-party speed test to get an initial read on your internet speeds. Be sure to run the test when your internet connection isn’t being used, as online activities like downloading large files can influence your speed test results
Also, pay attention to the time of day that you’re running your speed test to be sure that you’re getting an accurate reading with no outside influences. Global internet usage is typically at its heaviest between 9 and 11 p.m., so running your speed test during this time could slow your results exponentially.
Run a speed test on a Virtual Private Network
After your first speed test, install a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, and then run the test again. A VPN-run speed test should help indicate whether your service provider is selectively throttling your internet during certain times of the day or types of internet usage. In some cases, your internet service provider may only throttle speeds during specific online activities such as torrent streaming.
Some internet providers can tell when you’re running a speed test and will pause throttling until the test is over to avoid detection. A VPN can help to mask your internet activities an give you a more accurate speed test no matter what you’re using the internet for.
Many “free or community” VPN services are known for selling and harvesting personal information, so do some research on both free and fee-based VPN options. Look for services that meet your needs and have complimentary reviews to be sure that you’re helping your efforts and not inviting more devious activity into your network.
Compare speed test #1 and #2
Take your results from speed test #1 and #2 and compare. If your results are similar, that’s a good indication that your provider is not throttling your internet speeds. If your VPN speed test result is much faster, your provider may be throttling your speeds. keep in mind that the use of a VPN will decrease your internet speed, but ideally, it shouldn’t have a noticeable impact.
Compare your results to advertised speeds
If both of your speed test results match, take a look at that number compared to the speeds you’ve been promised by your internet service provider. According to FCC reports, most internet subscribers receive speeds that meet or exceed those advertised by their provider.
Some DSL and satellite subscribers, on the other hand, received speeds lower than the advertised “up to” speeds of their provider. If your speed test results differ greatly from what you’ve been paying for from month-to-month, it may be time to think about switching internet service providers.
Why you should be concerned
“There are a number of reasons consumers should be concerned about throttling,” Choffnes said.
First and foremost is the fact that consumers paying for internet service expect to be able to use the internet in any lawful way they want, subject to constraints on available bandwidth and data quotas.
Another reason is the quality of content. According to Choffnes, “Throttling typically leads to lower-resolution video streaming, meaning that videos are blurry even though both the network and screens support high-resolution content.”
Lastly, throttling could affect competition among providers. For instance, as part of their study, they found that in some cases YouTube is throttled but other providers, like Vimeo, are not.
How to stop throttling
If you’ve found that your provider is throttling your internet, there’s not much you can do to stop it if you’re committed to staying with your current provider at your current price point. Browsing on a VPN network or upgrading may be your best solution.
“In some cases, users can turn off throttling (e.g., disabling Stream Saver on AT&T.) In other cases, one can purchase a data plan that does not include throttling, usually at a higher price,” Choffnes said.
Looking to switch internet providers after your speed tests? Try a provider with more data to fit all your online activities. Call us to speak with TV and internet experts about providers and speeds in your area.