What is Bandwidth Throttling and How to Stop It

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There is nothing more frustrating than endless buffering when watching that long-awaited TV episode or when your favourite team is playing an action game. Your bandwidth may be reduced. But how do you know if an Internet Service Provider (ISP) is controlling your connection speed? And if it does, is there a way to prevent it?

Believe it or not, Internet bandwidth is never really unlimited. The signal that is sent to your devices comes from a single cell phone tower that is shared with many other people at the same time.

That’s why Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can sometimes “throttle” or limit your usage to certain speeds without explicitly telling you, in order to free up bandwidth for other people connected to the same tower.

In general, ISPs only “throttle” what they consider a “strong” Internet user – according to their own definition – during “peak periods”.

A typical Internet user will probably never experience network strangulation. If your Internet is slow, there may be another reason.

It is frustrating to do a speed test and find that you are taking less speed than you are paying for. The question is: are you getting throttled? Or is that another problem?

What is Bandwidth Throttling?

Bandwidth throttling is the deliberate slowing down of Internet service by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or hosting provider. It is a reactive measure used in communication networks to regulate network traffic and minimize congestion and bandwidth usage.

Throttling is a method of limiting the flow of data to and from your account. You may remember the days when you stored unlimited data for your mobile device, only to discover that once you reached a certain stage, your data slowed down to be explored. This practice has been largely abandoned by mobile operators. Unfortunately, it is still very much alive in web hosting today.

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Many users are courted by requests for unlimited bandwidth, only to find that the bandwidth slows down considerably once a threshold of usage is reached. When considering this issue, you have to ask yourself what the point of web hosting is if your data is transferred with hideous latency. If you can save a little money up front, you pay a lot more in lost revenue, lost activity and poor search results.

How to Tell if your Bandwidth is Being Throttled?

If you think your Internet service provider is limiting your bandwidth because you have reached a monthly threshold, an Internet speed test done several times a month can shed some light on the issue. If your bandwidth suddenly drops towards the end of the month, this could be the case.

ISP bandwidth bottlenecks based on the type of traffic, such as using torrents or Netflix streaming, can be tested with some certainty using The Internet Health Test or M-Lab free traffic shaping tests.

Other types of bandwidth throttling are more difficult to test. If you think the bottleneck is enabled on the corporate network, just ask your friendly IT staff at the office.

Any bandwidth throttling at the other end, such as for an MMOG, a cloud backup service, etc. is probably explained somewhere in the service’s help documentation. If you can’t find anything, just ask them.

Paid Prioritization

Sometimes ISPs strangle certain Internet applications – such as Netflix or Hulu – to prevent you from using them (and maybe to convince you to use their own proprietary streaming service). This is suspicious, we know. An Internet service provider may also limit Internet service on certain sites if they want the site in question to pay for faster loading times.

There are also cases where ISPs strangle certain types of data because they simply use a lot of bandwidth (even if you already pay for it) and put pressure on the network. This could happen with large downloads or torrents.

All this is good for the ISP’s wallet, but terrible for consumers. And prioritization used to be illegal until the net neutrality laws were repealed in 2018.

What you Can do to Stop It

If the tests show that your connection is throttled, what do you do? Start by getting angry, because a little righteous indignation can go a long way.

If you think you’re being unfairly restricted, complain to your ISP: call them, email them, go to their office. The key is to use the test data to prove your case. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get a better plan at no extra cost. That’s what happened to me when I told them that my speed was slower and my monthly fee was higher than the introductory offers, even though I’ve been a paying customer for 20 years. Fortunately, the woman doubled my speed for free.

If you have a plan that allows you to be throttled, it’s a little harder, but you’re not unlucky. You can always switch to a plan that doesn’t have a data cap, but it will probably cost you more. A good negotiation technique is to tell them that you’re not satisfied with the service and that you’re going to change ISPs. This usually gets their attention.

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