How Can I Tell If My ISP Is Throttling My Internet?

Few things are more frustrating than when you’re in the middle of a project or a suspenseful part of a TV program, and your internet suddenly slows down. While there are several reasons for slow internet, it’s because your internet service provider is throttling your internet in many cases. Today, we will break down why this happens and the best ways to avoid this pesky problem.

What is ISP Throttling?

Internet throttling is when your ISP intentionally limits your upload and download speeds. When this happens, you may experience noticeably slower internet that you can’t explain away with bad weather or equipment issues.

It’s not the best experience, which is why many providers have stopped throttling speeds, or at the very least, offer unlimited data options. Still, users should be aware of ISP throttling if their speeds slow down unexpectedly.

Fortunately, the average internet user is not expected to experience network throttling. Chances are there may be another reason for your slow internet.

Why Does My ISP Throttle My Speeds?

To avoid ISP throttling, it’s best to know why your internet provider does this in the first place. This will help you notice if it’s happening to you. Here are the main reasons:

1. Reduce network congestion

Speed throttling helps ISPs conserve network storage to support more customers simultaneously, which usually happens during “high traffic” times between 7 PM and 10 PM–  when most people get online after work or school.

2. Impose data limits

Some providers place data limits on their internet plans. When users exceed their data allowance for the month, their speeds are slowed to help prioritize other customers’ service. 

3. Limit specific internet activity

ISPs can actually pick and choose which websites, activities, or services they limit data to. This includes gaming sites, streaming services, and most commonly torrenting sites. Either in the name of curbing data overages or enforcing copyright laws, providers have the ability to limit or outright censor what content you access online via speed throttling.

How to Test for Speed Throttling

Typically, it starts with a hunch. If you experience poor internet out of nowhere or certain sites are loading slower than others, it’s a good idea to check your speeds.

The best way to go about this is to run a speed test with and without a virtual private network (VPN) connected. If your connection is noticeably faster when connected to a VPN, there’s a good chance your ISP is throttling your bandwidth.

If you’ve determined that your ISP is throttling your service, don’t worry. In the next section, we outline the best ways to avoid this altogether.

Ways to Avoid ISP Throttling

If your provider is throttling your internet, know that there are many ways to prevent it. We list the most effective options here:

  1. Sign up for a VPN subscription. A reliable VPN will be able to hide your IP address and encrypt your online data safely, so your provider can’t monitor or limit your online traffic. Of all the solutions, we recommend trying this first.
  1. Upgrade your internet plan to include a higher bandwidth. If you constantly exceed your monthly data allowance, it may be time to upgrade to an unlimited plan to avoid any slowdowns.
  1. Monitor your own data use to stay within your data limit. Keeping track of your data use or opting for a higher data allowance can help you avoid overage fees.
  1. Switch to a new internet service provider. Not all ISPs impose data limits on their customers. If you find that your provider is too limiting, it may be time to switch to a new internet service provider that offers higher or unlimited data options.

Final Thoughts

No one likes slow internet. The good news is you don’t have to put up with it. Whether you change your ISP or upgrade your internet plan, there are many ways to avoid slower speeds. 

If you’re curious if your internet is loading more slowly than usual, use our speed test to see if your plan is living up to its promise. 

Download vs Upload Speed Explained

Download speeds and upload speeds sound similar on the surface, so what exactly is the difference between the two?

Before we explain, it’s important to note that many internet providers offer a range of download and upload speeds at different prices. To help you sift through the noise, we’ll break down the definitions of each type of speed and help you figure out what you should be paying for.

Bandwidth vs. Speed

It’s best to understand what you’re buying before starting your search. All internet plans focus on the amount of bandwidth you’ll receive from your provider. Bandwidth is measured by megabits per second (Mbps). So, when looking at a plan that says you’ll receive 25 Mbps, that is the maximum amount of data your internet connection can handle at one time. While a higher bandwidth increases your amount of data, it does not necessarily mean you’re getting better performance. More on that later. 

Internet speed, on the other hand, is the rate at which data can be downloaded or uploaded on a given device. This is also measured in Mbps. Keep in mind that, when comparing internet plans, the speeds listed are only the maximum speeds you could possibly receive.

Think about a highway when comparing bandwidth and speed. Bandwidth represents the number of lanes on a highway. The more lanes on a highway, the more cars that can be on the highway at a given time. When there are fewer cars on the road, the cars move quickly. The more cars you add to the highway, the slower the cars move because the route becomes congested.

With bandwidth, the more users and devices you have on one connection, the slower your ability is to upload and download data. Basically, internet traffic is similar to real-life traffic.

It’s essential to consider the number of users and devices you will use in your home regularly. You want to be sure that you have enough bandwidth to accommodate your needs without compromising speed. You can get a sense of your current internet speed using our speed test.

What is Download Speed?

Download speed is how fast data flows from the internet to your computer. Most home internet usage relies on fast download speeds — loading webpages, images, listening to music, downloading files, streaming, etc. Streaming in 4K requires especially fast download speeds, so you’re not waiting for your favorite show to buffer.

Fiber-optic, cable internet, and select 5G internet providers offer the fastest download speeds among ISPs. 

What is Upload Speed?

Upload speed is how fast data goes from your computer to the internet. Activities like sending emails, uploading media files, and viewing live video calls are all activities that use upload speed. Upload speeds are extremely important to consider if you’re working from home and spend your days on Zoom (or something of the like). 

Symmetrical Speeds

Symmetrical speeds refer to an internet plan with the same upload and download speeds. You’ll want to keep an eye out for this feature when shopping for a new provider. 

Many providers prioritize download speeds over upload speeds because they’re typically used for more online activities like web browsing and gaming. When your download and upload speeds are different, they are called asymmetrical speeds.

If you are a remote worker or content creator that frequently uploads files to the internet, you will want to pay attention to this feature. Upload speeds can significantly slow down your workflow if they’re not fast enough.

How Much Speed Do I Need?

In general, internet plans can include speeds ranging anywhere from 1 Mbps to over 3000 Mbps. Anything above 25 Mbps is considered fast enough for modern applications, but speeds below 200 Mbps can be challenging for a large household. Check out the FCC’s recommendations on the right amount of bandwidth for your needs.

Take note of the speed your plan offers. Most plans offer asymmetric speeds, since more users consume content rather than upload it. So, download speeds are faster than upload speeds. Plans advertised as “5/1” mean that you’ll get 5 Mbps of download per 1 Mbps of upload.