Is My Internet Being Throttled by My ISP?

If your internet connection suddenly slows down, your first thought may be, “Am I being throttled?” Internet throttling occurs when your internet service provider (ISP) lowers your connection speed. ISP throttling often occurs as a result of hitting your data cap, but it can also happen when you download a lot of data from a single source, such as Netflix or a peer-to-peer sharing site. Throttling could even be used as an incentive to get customers to switch to a higher plan, though there is no concrete evidence for this.

Here is a deeper dive into internet throttling and other potential reasons for a slowdown, as well as the steps you can take if you suspect your internet is being throttled.

Why is my internet slow?

If you’re wondering, “why is my internet slow,” first, take a deep breath. There are three main reasons why users experience internet slowdowns:

Network issues

Both your ISP and your own home wireless network are subject to issues that could slow them down. Sometimes it’s a technical problem, while other times it’s simply due to network congestion. Think of the internet as a highway system. During rush hour, or “peak usage,” as many ISPs refer to it, lots of people are on the roads all at the same time, causing traffic to spike. For the internet, rush hour is typically defined as 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. If you’re experiencing slowdowns at this time, try limiting the number of connected devices on your home wireless network temporarily to see if it relieves the congestion. If you’re still having problems, try again to connect late at night, when fewer people are using the internet.

Equipment issues

Regardless of what type of internet connection you have, a lot of complex equipment is involved at both the user end and the ISP end. Try rebooting your modem and router, and moving your router to another location within your home. If these steps don’t fix the problem, contact your internet provider to see if there is a known outage and get further instructions.

Throttling

As mentioned above, internet throttling can happen for many reasons. If you’ve eliminated network and equipment problems as the source of your connection troubles, it is entirely possible that your connection is being throttled.

Why is there ISP throttling?

Data caps

Data caps are one of the most common reasons for ISP throttling. A data cap is the maximum amount of data you are allowed to download or stream in a single month. While some major providers, such as Spectrum and Verizon Fios, don’t have data caps, many others do. For example, Comcast throttling may occur after you hit 1 TB of data usage in a month. If your service seems slow, check with your ISP to find out what your data cap is and whether you have exceeded it. Without data caps, though, Spectrum throttling and Verizon throttling must have a different explanation.

User activity

As noted above, network congestion during peak hours can cause inadvertent slowdowns because ISPs may not be able to handle the load. As a result, some ISPs choose to throttle users who are using sites known for using a lot of bandwidth, especially during peak times. Some ISPs, such as HughesNet, are transparent about this intent, while others bury it in the fine print of your contract.

Slowing down network as leverage

A lot of ISPs, including the aforementioned HughesNet, now let customers buy additional data in the form of higher-end and more expensive plans that increase or remove their data cap. Though there is no hard evidence for it, the possibility exists that some ISPs could throttle users on lower-end plans unnecessarily to get them to upgrade.

How to find out if your ISP is throttling your internet

If you suspect that your ISP is throttling your internet, the first step is to test your hypothesis. A speed test is a website or app that checks the speed of your internet connection by sending a small file back and forth to your ISP’s nearby servers. A speed test can help you decide if your internet is being throttled due to data caps or basic network congestion issues.

If you suspect that your ISP is selectively throttling your internet based on your usage of specific websites, though, the best way to confirm it is by running a speed test with a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. A VPN is a way to encrypt your communications, ensuring that neither your ISP nor anyone else knows which websites you’re visiting. Running a speed test with a VPN lets you see if there’s a difference between your connection speeds with and without it. If you find a difference, it could indicate that your connection is being selectively throttled.

What should you do if your internet is being throttled?

If you really like your internet service provider otherwise, and you’re not being selectively throttled based on your browsing activity, you may want to focus on trying to change your internet behaviors to avoid being throttled. For example, you may choose not to stream or to download large files during peak internet hours.

Another option is to see if your ISP offers higher-tier plans that raise or remove your data cap. While this can be pricey, it may be worth considering if you like your service.

If your ISP is selectively throttling your connection based on usage, or you don’t want to change the way you use the internet, then it’s time to start shopping for a new provider. Use the ISP.com zip code tool to find providers in your local area, and then stay on the site to research and compare them. It’s worth doing a bit of legwork upfront to find the ISP that is truly right for you.

The bottom line

Internet throttling can be annoying and frustrating. The first step is to determine whether your internet is being throttled. If it is, then you’ll need to decide whether you want to change your habits to avoid throttling or whether you would prefer to change providers. If it’s time to make a switch, ISP.com can help guide you through every stage of the process.