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What is ISP Throttling and how a VPN can help?

2022/01/07

You might think it might just be bad luck when your internet dies out of nowhere just when you're about to defeat the final boss in whatever video game suits your fancy. But consider this, someone could be doing that on purpose. No, not some virtual sour loser or hackers in a random part of the world. It could be your very own Internet Service Provider (ISP). And such action is called ISP Throttling.

You might ask, ‘but why?’, or maybe even ‘Is that legal?’, or perhaps ‘how do I stop it?’ all of which are excellent questions! That's why we've compiled this helpful article to answer those questions and a couple more.

Read on to learn all about ISP Throttling and how to stop it!

What is ISP throttling?

ISP throttling is what you experience when your Internet Service Provider slows down your internet for various reasons. And although in most cases, ISPs are required to disclose that they do engage in throttling, they can do this basically whenever they want. You or anyone may never even know it!

Throttling can happen without warning, and if it takes enough time, it can seriously affect productivity. In the age of Zoom meetings and online school, slow internet has replaced on-road traffic.

And just like busy roads, ISP throttling can be extremely annoying, especially if you’re in the middle of something important. (And yes, gaming counts as important! We all need to do something fun to recharge at the end of a long day.)

Not to mention, you're paying for your internet! Naturally, you would expect that you get what you pay for, at the speed you're paying for!

Despite the inconvenience that it creates, ISP throttling isn't nearly as talked about as it perhaps should be. The main reason is that it's hard to understand and harder still to prove.

Why does Throttling happen?

The reasons an ISP may slow down internet speed may include, but are not limited to:

Network Congestion: In other words, to avoid overburdening the network. Usually, during heavy online traffic hours, ISPs choose to slow down traffic for what they deem 'heavy' users. They do this to ensure that everyone can have equal access to the internet. If your online game or streaming service is putting too much load on the server, then your ISP may decide to throttle you.

Data Cap: Sometimes (especially with mobile data), ISPs can limit how much internet you can use in a month. When you are nearing that limit, you might start to experience throttling.

Paid Prioritization: This means that a website or application pays the ISP to throttle users' data when they are on competitor websites or apps. For example (purely hypothetical), say that Company A is competing with Netflix to increase viewers. One of the ways that they can do that is to pay ISPs to slow down the internet when someone is using Netflix. The goal is basically to annoy users into switching from Netflix to Company A.

Suspicious or illegal activity: One case in which an ISP may slow down the internet is if someone is trying to access a suspicious or even outright illegal website. Suppose you live in a country with strict censorship laws, and you try to watch a video that maybe doesn't adhere to those laws. In that case, your ISP can throttle you to keep you from using their service for what it deems illegal activity.

Throttling is controversial, to say the least, especially when done for paid prioritization purposes, which is why we're going to talk about whether it is legal or not in this next section.

Is ISP throttling illegal?

For the most part, no. Internet throttling is not illegal in most cases. However, ISPs are required by law in some countries to disclose when and if throttling is being conducted.

The main reason it isn’t illegal is the same one you have likely benefitted from. Throttling is usually done to avoid over-burdening the network and ensure that data is distributed evenly.

Throttling ensures a stable internet connection for all users, slow as it may be. And it can help prevent illegal activity.

The problem is mostly to do with net neutrality. Net neutrality laws ensure that ISPs treat all content as equal. But in countries like the US, where such laws have been repealed, ISPs can influence how you use different websites and apps by slowing down your internet connection when you log on.

Another not-so-great thing that can happen is that the company may be charging the cost of prioritization to the end-user (that's you!). And this is on top of the money you're paying to get internet speed that is then being throttled! We should mention that even though throttling is illegal in Singapore, companies can still get away with it since it's so hard to prove that it's being done. So, while throttling may not be illegal, it's not without fault.

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How to know if you are being throttled?

There isn't a sure-shot way of knowing if or when you're being throttled, especially if the throttling is happening because of congestion.

The best way that we can recommend is to follow these steps:

Step 1: Run an online speed test and note your current internet speed.

Step 2:  Connect to a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The VPN will encrypt your IP address and stop your ISP from interfering with your data connection.

Step 3: Run another online speed test and see if there is a significant difference.

While this process is the best one, it isn’t full proof. You can't prove that your internet is being throttled since internet speed can depend on various other factors.

You may occasionally notice that your internet speed slows down considerably while you're traveling, or maybe you've noticed: if multiple people are using the same wi-fi it won't work quite as well. Even things like weather conditions can interfere with your data usage.

You might also want to check your service agreement to see if you aren't nearing your data cap because if you are, then no VPN can help you there.

How to stop ISP Throttling?

There are different ways to stop ISP throttling, depending on the reason for throttling.

You could self-regulate your data usage, meaning that you decrease the amount of time or data you use in a month to avoid capping. You could do this by limiting the amount of time you spend on streaming or gaming.

What's more, you could switch to a different internet service provider that may not have the same cap or restrictions as your current one. It's more likely than not that the area you live in has a competitor you could switch to.

Another option is switching or upgrading to a different plan with a higher data cap.

One option is to use public wi-fi in a library or café, or wherever suits your own needs. Typically, though, public networks are slow because of the number of people usually using them. So things like downloading and uploading files or even streaming videos on YouTube will not be easy. Plus, public wi-fi networks are far less secure.

Or! If you're looking for an easy-fix solution, we suggest that you use a VPN! VPNs are great because not only do they allow you to bypass throttling (that is, throttling that ISN'T because of a data cap), but they also help protect your privacy.

Why use VPN?

A VPN or Virtual Private Company is the easiest answer to your throttled needs! Especially if switching ISPs or plans is not something you're interested in.

The way that a VPN works is that it encrypts your data and makes it so that your IP address can be anywhere in the world so that the service provider (or anyone else, for that matter) can't trace where or what you're surfing on the web.

While a VPN can't stop your ISP from imposing bandwidth restrictions, it can mask your activity so that your ISP can't throttle you for streaming too much or using a website they don't want you to use.

Another major advantage of VPNs is that when they allow you to switch your IP address, it opens up a world of new TV show or movie streaming options for you that may not have been available with your location otherwise.

With a VPN like Proxy Master, you will also find streaming services like Netflix stream faster, because again, ISPs can't access information about where you are and what you're doing; therefore, they can't interfere with your Netflix streaming.

And remember that paid prioritization we talked about earlier? And how the competitor company may try to charge that cost to you? With a VPN, you avoid having to buy a subscription to whatever streaming site the ISP may be getting paid by, and you can avoid the prioritization cost they may try to charge you!

Plus, with a VPN, you can get the internet speed that you were paying for, to begin with!

What's the Take-away message?

ISP throttling is a very real and very difficult to track thing. While it isn't always a bad thing, and many users may not even notice ISPs targeting specific sites, the fact is that you're paying for a level of service that you're not always getting.

And you have no reliable way of confirming it either!

That's why a VPN is something worth considering! Not only does it enable you to bypass many of the inconveniences that throttling can bring easily, but a VPN also protects your privacy and allows you to access websites and stream shows and movies you maybe couldn't have otherwise.

So go forth, download Proxy Master now, and surf and stream the web to your heart’s content!