Using the internet today is different to how it was a couple of years ago. There are more restrictions than ever before, with literally hundreds of websites blocked in several countries, all while ISPs spy on the sites you visit, track how long you stay and follow you around constantly.
Likewise, another common and condemnable practice that ISPs like is throttling, where they slow your internet speed so much that it becomes unusable and truly impossible to do anything, which often ruins what should be a simple, uncomplicated online experience. What makes this even more infuriating is that most customers don’t even know they’re being throttled, how to find out about it or what they can do to avoid it.
Netflix, Torrents and More
First of all, it’s important to know exactly when ISPs are likely to throttle connections, and usually this is when you’re using too much bandwidth. In fact, even if you have a plan with unlimited data, it is likely that you’ll see your speed slow down more and more the higher the number of downloads you make. Having said that, torrent websites are one of the most common giveaways for ISPs to start throttling connections immediately, though this is a special case since there are laws that allow this. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and even YouTube can also become quite heavy on bandwidth usage, and will often be throttled by ISPs too after customers spend some time on it. But just how do you find out if you’re being throttled, or if the connection is just poor?
To be honest, this is something of a trick question since there is nothing that can simply say, “hey, you’re being throttled”. Instead, you need to draw your own conclusion. For instance, there are several internet speed test websites out there, such as Netflix’s own solution called FAST, SpeedTest.net – which we use for VPN testing – and many others that, within minutes, can detect your connection’s speed with precision. Here’s the thing: if these tools show much slower speeds than what you’re expected to receive from your ISP, then it’s almost certain that you’re being throttled. However, for proper testing there are some steps you should take into consideration:
- Run the test in a wired connection. A wireless connection is typically slower and the further away you are from your router the more speed is lost, not to mention it can be erratic and not provide stable results. Use an Ethernet cable to plug your computer into the router or, if that’s not possible, be as close as possible to it.
- Run several tests within a month. Even if your plan has unlimited bandwidth, at the end of the month you’ll have used the most and therefore this is most likely when your bandwidth could be limited. Often you’ll get faster speeds in the beginning of a month and will start being throttled towards the end.
- Run tests when using different websites. Before watching some show on Netflix or downloading a massive pile of files check how your connection is handling. If you see it buffering too many times or struggling to transfer even lighter files, give it another test. It’s likely that this second one is significantly slower than the first one.
In addition to that, you can visit Battle for the Net’s Internet Health Test, a tool that runs several tests on different routes to find any flaws in the so-called interconnection points. If there is poor performance in one or more of these routes, then speeds will be consistently slow and this can be an indicator of ISP throttling.
Bypassing ISP Throttles
The best way to bypass ISP throttling is by using a VPN. This is actually one of the main reasons why people even get VPNs, since no ISP can see what you do when connected through a VPN. In fact, all they can see is that you’re connected to a VPN server, but everything that happens beyond that is just a part of the great unknown. This prevents them from throttling your connection due to bandwidth use and allows you to enjoy streaming services or downloading as much as you want without concern of having a slow connection.
However, note that VPNs use encryption, which also decreases the overall internet speed, even if most VPN providers allow you to opt for lighter encryption or have specific servers just for that purpose. Also, when it comes to torrenting, VPNs are of an even greater importance, since in many countries this is illegal and can lead to heavy monetary fines and even jail sentences.
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