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May 22, 2020

The Basics of Bandwidth Throttling and How to Avoid It

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Few things are more annoying than a buffering Netflix show or a lagging video game. But what causes these slow speeds? Perhaps it’s just a matter of a busy server. Or, perhaps, your internet service provider has deliberately slowed your internet connection. The term for this action is “bandwidth throttling.” But what is throttling and how do you stop it?

  • What is bandwidth throttling?
  • Is my mobile device safe?
  • How do I prevent throttling?

What is Bandwidth Throttling?

Throttling occurs when your internet service provider, or ISP, slows your internet connection on purpose. There are a number of reasons ISPs may reduce your speeds. They include:

  • Data Caps: If you reach your monthly data cap, you may encounter slower than normal speeds.
  • Unpaid Bills: Some ISPs will cut your connection entirely for an unpaid bill. However, others will start by slowing your speeds until you pay.
  • Impossible Promises: When you sign a contract with an ISP, they may promise you the world. However, many providers simply can’t keep up with their promises. Fast, unlimited internet is expensive to provide, especially in an era of online gaming and 4K streaming. Many ISPs have to slow their speeds to all users in order to provide internet at all.
  • Paid Throttling: When the United States revoked net neutrality laws, they paved the way for corporations to control use of the internet. For example, some providers may deliberately slow speeds to sites they don’t approve of. They may also accept money from other businesses to increase speeds to their sites, or decrease speeds to competitors. However, there is little evidence that businesses are taking advantage of these laws. In addition, this practice is illegal in many other countries.

Finally, some ISPs will throttle your speeds just because they can. It’s cheaper for them to keep speeds equal for all clients, regardless of what their contract states.

Is My Mobile Device Safe?

Some people think that, if they use a mobile device, they’re safe from bandwidth throttling. However, this is untrue. Any online activity that passes through an ISP’s servers is subject to throttling, whether the provider is offering wi-fi or mobile data.

How Do I Prevent Throttling?

The easiest way to prevent bandwidth throttling is to use a virtual private network, or VPN. Your ISP slows your internet speeds based on the activities they see passing through their servers. For example, video streaming and online gaming take up a lot of bandwidth and can be expensive for providers, so when they see it happening, they slow it down.

If you use a VPN, the service actually hides your activity from your internet service provider. Instead of seeing that you’re streaming on Netflix, your ISP will see gibberish and not target you for slower speeds. However, ISPs can still blanket throttle every device on their network, especially at high-use times, in order to save money. To get around this problem, look for a VPN that will filter your traffic through their own servers.

Bandwidth throttling is a frustrating practice for any internet user. However, with a VPN, it doesn’t have to be. Check out some other common uses for virtual private networks here.

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