UPDATE 12/14/2017: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today, 3-2, to repeal the Net Neutrality rules meant to protect an open and free internet. This means that ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon will now have the power to throttle your bandwidth as they see fit.
Imagine this scenario: You get into your comfortable couch with a bowl of popcorn and turn on your smart TV for some good old Netflix binge-watching. However, the next thing you know, your video is taking ages to load and buffer.
Why? Turns out that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is slowing down – or throttling as it’s usually called – your internet connection. Many users around the world face the problem of bandwidth throttling, and here we’re going to do the best we can to explain it.
What Is Bandwidth Throttling, Exactly?
To put it simply, bandwidth throttling is when an ISP purposely slows down your internet speed based on what you are doing online. This is particularly true when it comes to activities like streaming, downloading and gaming as they require higher bandwidth usage.
As a result, a vast majority of ISPs have resorted to the practice of restricting your internet speeds when they detect you are watching a video, downloading a large number of files or playing a video game on your Xbox Live.
idk if its my internet company throttling me or xbox live but its legit not letting me find a match or play this is ridiculous
— SoaR Trif (@Trif_) December 12, 2017
Why Do ISPs Throttle Bandwidth?
With high-speed internet a necessity in today’s technologically advanced world, you must be confused as to why an ISP would intentionally make your internet connection slower. There are, however, various reasons why they choose to take this route.
An ISP may throttle your connection during peak times, simply because the same service is being used by a large number of users all at the same time. If the ISP doesn’t have the capacity to maintain a stable service during peak times, they will put a limit on connections.
Similarly, an ISP’s contract may contain a Fair Usage Policy which states that if a user breaks the data cap limit within a month, their connection would be throttled next month. ISPs claim this prevents over-usage of the network by a small percentage of users, and makes internet access fair for everyone else.
ISP throttling has also come into the limelight with the recent Net Neutrality debate. Internet users are concerned that if the existing Net Neutrality rules are abolished, ISPs would become the gatekeepers of the internet. They will be able to block or throttle sites or services, especially those that compete against their own.
Without #NetNeutrality, your internet service provider could set up a “fast lane” for applications and websites they own, while throttling or blocking all competitors. The end of the open internet. pic.twitter.com/7URwngEnY8
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) December 15, 2017
This subject has hit the headlines time and time again, as some ISPs have been caught red-handed for throttling speeds to websites they don’t favor. Comcast’s throttling of BitTorrent and AT&T’s unlimited data throttling are some high-profile examples.
How Could the Net Neutrality Repeal Affect Internet Speeds?
The free internet that we love will cease to exist after the Net Neutrality repeal. ISPs could start bundling services like certain applications or websites, which means you will have to pay more to gain unrestricted access to the internet or else face throttled speeds.
Also, ISPs could throttle websites like Hulu or Netflix so that they can make their own services more attractive. So, if you rely on streaming services to watch your favorite TV shows, you are most likely to face slow internet speeds and reduction in video quality.
This will result in the internet becoming a “two-tier” pay-to-play technology: one that has high-speed service, and one that has slow service. Big companies and affluent households will occupy the fast lane, whereas the slow lane would be for everyone else.
Frequently Asked Questions about ISP Bandwidth Throttling
To help you better understand ISP bandwidth throttling, here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the topic:
Can My Internet Provider See What I am Doing?
Your ISP can’t see everything that you do online, but it’s quite close. Since they assign your IP address and know what IP addresses you are communicating with, they can see what websites and services you are using. Furthermore, they can also read any unencrypted data that you send over the internet, but whether or not they do that is open for debate.
Here’s a video to give you a better idea:
Do ISPs Track Websites Visited?
Yes, ISPs can track every website you visit. How else do you think Verizon throttles their users’ when they are streaming videos on YouTube or Netflix?
How Do ISPs Throttle Bandwidth?
Deep packet inspection (DPI) is often used by ISPs to monitor your online activity and decide what traffic they want to restrict or slow down. This method brings serious implications for your privacy because your ISP inspects your internet traffic (the TV shows you watch, the websites you visit, the searches you make, etc.) so that they can throttle or block where necessary.
How to Tell If My ISP Is Throttling My Bandwidth?
If you suspect your internet is being throttled by your ISP, there are two ways to find out:
- Conduct Speed Test
Get an internet speed test done multiple times throughout the month. If you notice that your bandwidth is suddenly decreasing as the end of the month nears, then there’s a good chance your ISP is throttling your bandwidth.
- Run a Throttling Test
If you are still unsure whether your ISP is the reason behind your slow internet connection, then running a throttling test should prove useful. We’d recommend using the Internet Health Test, which checks for signs of any throttling from your ISP’s end.
Will a VPN Protect Me From My ISP?
Are you wondering, "How to avoid ISP throttling?" Well, if your bandwidth is being throttled, and switching your ISP is out of the question, then probably the best way to protect yourself is using a virtual private network (VPN).
It will not only change your virtual location but also route all your internet traffic through a secure encrypted, tunnel to make your activities completely anonymous.
— Chris Gaskill ✘ (@ChrisGaskill) December 15, 2017
However, since we are not completely sure what mechanisms will be put in place after the repeal of Net Neutrality rules, a VPN for bandwidth throttling can’t be relied on as a permanent solution as of yet. The same can be said about tools like Proxies and Tor.
Bandwidth throttling by your ISP violates the very principles of Net Neutrality. However, with the rules now overthrown by the FCC, the best thing you can do is keep yourself informed about the situation, do whatever you can to record your protest against the repeal of Net Neutrality rules, and see what unfolds.