What Is Internet Throttling?
ISP throttling is when your internet service provider (ISP) deliberately limits your internet speed or bandwidth. Any attempt by your ISP to slow down your connection speeds can be considered internet throttling.
Throttling works by limiting the rate at which data is transferred from your device to the internet, and vice versa. This has the effect of lowering your connection speed and reducing the volume of your bandwidth.
Throttling affects two different parts of your internet connection:
- Speed: The rate at which data, normally measured in Mbps, is transmitted from your device to the internet.
- Bandwidth: The maximum volume of data that can be transferred over an internet connection in a set amount of time.
Throttling is legal in the US as long as the offending ISP fully discloses the practice to its customers. There are legitimate reasons for internet throttling such as ensuring your device doesn’t overload its processing capacity as well as optimizing the ISP’s network during periods of high congestion.
The extent of the internet throttling can vary greatly by ISP. Generally, throttling is much more common on mobile network providers, such as T-Mobile.
T-Mobile outlines multiple factors in its internet service policy that can affect your connection speed, most notably:
“…Uses that affect your network prioritization, such as whether you are using Smartphone Mobile HotSpot (tethering) or if you are a Heavy Data User.”
A ‘Heavy Data User’ is classified as a subscriber who uses more than 50GB of data in a single billing cycle. Prioritizing the data usage of non-Heavy Data users is, in turn, an intentional lowering of speeds for Heavy Data Users.
EXAMPLE: Leading mobile provider AT&T and broadband provider Verizon are both guilty of using data prioritization to throttle specific customers.
What Isn’t Internet Throttling?
It’s easy to wrongly label any instance of slower connection speeds as internet throttling, but this isn’t always the case.
Your internet speed can be affected by a variety of factors that are unrelated to your ISP. These could include network congestion, a strict NAT type on your home router, or problems with your local infrastructure.
Equally, there are instances where your ISP is affecting your connection speeds but it isn’t throttling.
Your contract with your ISP may be attached to a hard data cap, where once reached, no further traffic is allowed.
This won’t slow down your internet connection, instead it will prevent the connection from being established in the first place.
Why Do ISPs Throttle Internet Speeds?
SUMMARY: ISPs throttle internet speeds to manage and optimize network performance. This includes during periods of high congestion, limiting bandwidth-intensive activities, and regulating your device’s processing capacity.
ISPs use throttling as a tool to shape traffic and manage the overall performance of the network.
During periods of high congestion, ISPs may throttle your connection to better distribute bandwidth to all users across the network.
Moreover, if you tend to carry out bandwidth-heavy activities like P2P file-sharing or online gaming then your ISP will throttle your connection. This is to ensure that other subscribers on the same network will have sufficient bandwidth to browse the internet.
Your ISP can also use throttling to prevent your device from overloading due to excessive bandwidth usage.
Can You Bypass a Data Cap or Bandwidth Limit?
Your ISP may impose a data cap, which means you can only use a fixed amount of data during a billing cycle. The amount of allocated data varies by ISP and subscription, as does the penalty for exceeding this amount.
Reaching your data limit may trigger a suspension of your internet access, slower connection speeds, or an allotment of new data on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to bypass a data cap, as your ISP will always be able to monitor the amount of data you use.
You can, however, upgrade to a data plan with a higher allotment or subscribe to an unlimited data plan without any restrictions. This will cost you more, though. You can also switch to an ISP that doesn’t use data plans.
Similar to a data cap, a bandwidth limit refers to a fixed volume of data that can be transferred over a period of time. For example, if your ISP sets your bandwidth limit to 50Mbps, then it would take 20 seconds to download a 1GB (1,000MB) file.
As with data caps, you can’t bypass bandwidth limits. If your ISP actively enforces a bandwidth limit then you’ll need to upgrade to a more generous plan or switch providers.