How to Tell When Your Internet Is Being Throttled


 

Quick answer: Check your data use

Internet service providers (ISPs) throttle internet connections for three main reasons: data-type deprioritization, data caps, and network management during high traffic times.

With satellite and other rural internet types, the most common reason for throttling is going over your data cap. Fixed-wireless and mobile hotspot connections can also run into throttling related to data caps. And though it’s less common (because their data caps are more generous), it can even happen with cable and DSL internet connections as well.

If your internet tends to slow to a crawl at the end of the month, data cap throttling is your most likely culprit.

Both HughesNet and Viasat (formerly Exede) have a few easy ways to check your monthly data usage to see if that’s why your speeds are slowing down.

Pro tip

Your internet speeds can get throttled for data use even if you have an unlimited data plan. Most providers with unlimited plans give you a monthly high-speed data allowance—and after you use that up, you can get stuck with throttled speeds until the next billing cycle (but it will technically be an unlimited amount of data at that throttled speed).

What is internet throttling?

Internet throttling is when your internet service provider (ISP) intentionally limits your internet bandwidth. There are a few reasons why an ISP might throttle your bandwidth—including network management during high-traffic times, which is the most likely reason for cable internet throttling—but, as we said before, the most common one for satellite internet users is a data cap overage. Whatever the reason, throttling manifests itself as sluggish (sometimes unusably slow) internet speeds.

If your data cap isn’t the issue, check with a VPN

If you’re still well under your data cap for the month, your ISP might still be throttling your internet for another reason. There aren’t reliable ways to check for throttling due to network management, but you can use a VPN (virtual private network) to see if your ISP is throttling your use because of data-type prioritization.

Using a VPN can stop throttling because a VPN hides your data—so your ISP can still see how much data you’re using, but it can’t specify what the data is. (For example, your provider might limit how much bandwidth you can use for Netflix or other video streaming services. But when you use a VPN, they don’t know what you’re using your internet data for.)

How to check throttling with a VPN

  1. Run an internet speed test as normal.
  2. Turn on a VPN. If you don’t have a VPN and need a recommendation, we like NordVPN and Windscribe (the latter of which is free).
  3. Run a speed test again and compare your results. If your speed is a lot faster during the second test, you’re probably dealing with ISP throttling.

What is paid prioritization?

If it sounds fishy that your ISP can throttle you because it doesn’t like how you use the internet, that’s because it is—especially when the ISP is throttling one type of data in favor of another (for example, a provider might throttle Netflix to push customers to use its own proprietary video streaming service instead).

Paid prioritization used to be illegal under net neutrality, which is the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally by internet providers. But those protections have been gone in the US since 2018.1

How do I stop bandwidth throttling?

If you experience throttling because of a data cap, there are two main ways to escape slow speeds:

  • Reduce data use
  • Purchase more high-speed data

Unfortunately, there’s not much more you can do than that, but if you need tips on how to stay within your limit, check out our guide to internet data caps.

If your bandwidth is being throttled because of data prioritization, use a VPN. This trick works better with cable, fiber, or DSL. Normally we wouldn’t recommend using a VPN with a satellite internet connection because adding a VPN to your network can itself cause slower speeds or higher latency, which are two issues already inherent to satellite internet. But if you run into network throttling of this kind often, a VPN might be the only way around it.

How to tell when it’s not throttling

Not all slow internet speeds are caused by ISP throttling. Network outages, bad weather, equipment malfunctions, and other issues can also cause uncharacteristically slow internet speeds. To find the exact cause, you’ll need to troubleshoot your internet connection.

Sources

  1. Federal Communications Commission, “Restoring Internet Freedom,” Accessed November 6, 2020.
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