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How to Stop Internet Throttling by Your ISP

Headshot of Top10VPN.com Site Editor Callum Tennent

Callum Tennent oversees how we test and review VPN services. He's a member of the IAPP, and his VPN advice has featured in Forbes and the Internet Society.

Our Verdict

The best way to stop internet throttling is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This will encrypt your web traffic and route it through a remote server, preventing your ISP from monitoring and slowing your activity. However, you can’t use a VPN to bypass data caps or bandwidth limits.

Graphical illustration of two lanes of vehicles representing internet traffic

Internet service providers (ISPs) can deliberately slow down your internet connection to manage, regulate, and optimize their network. This is known as throttling.

You can use a VPN to stop most types of throttling, but it’s impossible to bypass a pre-agreed data cap or bandwidth limit.

In this guide, we’ll explain how internet throttling works, how to test if your connection is being throttled, and the four best methods for stopping it.

Summary: How to Stop Internet Throttling

  • Method 1: Use a VPN to hide your traffic from your ISP.
  • Method 2: Install a proxy that offers encryption to conceal your browser traffic.
  • Method 3: Upgrade to a less restrictive contract with your ISP.
  • Method 4: Change to a new ISP.

EXPERT ADVICE: The best VPN for stopping internet throttling is ExpressVPN. Its industry-leading encryption and full suite of security features ensures that your traffic is kept hidden from your ISP, which prevents it from slowing your internet speeds.

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.

Diagram of a throttled Netflix connection

Internet throttling reduces the speed of your connection and your available bandwidth.

Throttling affects two different parts of your internet connection:

  1. Speed: The rate at which data, normally measured in Mbps, is transmitted from your device to the internet.
  2. 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's policy on heavy data users

T-Mobile prioritizes its users based on their data usage and plan.

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.

Sky service outage

Slower connection speeds can be the result of outages in your area.

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.

How Does Internet Throttling Work?

Your ISP can choose to throttle all of your traffic, but it’s far more common for throttling to be used as a response to your browsing activity.

ISPs can choose to throttle your web traffic based on five different criteria:

  1. By the data plan you have with your ISP.
  2. By the amount of data used.
  3. By the IP addresses of the websites you access on your internet connection.
  4. By the protocols you use on your internet connection.
  5. By the websites you access through an internet firewall.

1. Throttling Based on Your Data Plan

ISPs divide customers into ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ lanes, with the former reserved for the highest-paying subscriptions and the latter for the lower-tier contracts.

Verizon's policy on prioritizing different data plans

Verizon prioritizes its customers’ connection speeds by data plan.

ISPs can take this a step further by offering ‘Paid Prioritization’ to third party companies. Streaming services, such as Netflix, can pay ISPs to establish fast lanes direct to its servers.

This means your internet can be throttled when connecting to Netflix, or other services, if you don’t qualify for your ISP’s fast lane.

Equally, your traffic could be noticeably faster when connecting to the particular streaming service your ISP is affiliated with, but throttled when connecting to competing sites.

2. Throttling Based on the Amount of Data Used

Your ISP may be attached to a ‘soft’ data cap whereby exceeding it will result in slower speeds. This can also cause your connection to become unstable.

AT&T's policy on data limits

AT&T lowers your connection speed if you exceed the set data limit.

For example, AT&T allows customers who exceed their data cap either operate on slower connection speeds or pay for a higher allotment of data.

This differs from a ‘hard’ data cap which prevents an internet connection from being created.

3. Throttling Based on the Websites You Access

ISPs can monitor your browsing history, and some are actively looking to throttle activities that consume large amounts of bandwidth, including: streaming, online gaming, and P2P file sharing.

ISPs can collect the IP addresses of well-known streaming services and video game servers and throttle any traffic that attempts to connect to them.

4. Throttling Based on the Protocol in Use

Your ISP can monitor the content of your traffic through a process called deep packet inspection. Your internet traffic is made up of small bits of data called ‘packets’ that establish a communication channel between your device and the server you’re accessing.

Deep packet inspection allows your ISP to analyze the individual packets that make up your
internet connection.

Wireshark test detecting a BitTorrent protocol

We were able to detect the BitTorrent protocol in our internet traffic while torrenting without a VPN.

Some ISPs may use this method to identify specific protocols in your internet traffic that typically consume a lot of bandwidth.

This is generally used to throttle torrenters who rely on identifiable peer-to-peer protocols to carry out file-sharing. There is precedent for this, with the FCC ordering Comcast to stop throttling customers who used P2P protocols in 2008.

5. Throttling Based on Censorship

In countries with strict online regulations like China and Iran, the ISPs are state-owned or affiliated, and access to the internet is closely monitored.

Our research into internet shutdowns revealed that severe throttling was one of the main censorship tactics employed by authoritarian governments. This can be carried out by throttling specific apps associated with known TCP/IP ports.

China’s statewide internet censorship system, nicknamed ‘The Great Firewall of China’, operates by throttling and blocking access to specific websites and services.

The Great Firewall of China uses multiple methods – including deep packet inspection – to sift through unencrypted internet traffic and throttle internet connections that access forbidden websites.

Online firewalls in these countries are advanced enough to identify when traffic has been encrypted by a VPN. For example, the Chinese censors are able to identify some VPN services based on the connection protocols they use.

To combat censorship, you can use a VPN equipped with obfuscation tools to bypass firewall-based internet throttling.

VPN obfuscation disguises VPN traffic as normal internet traffic, allowing you to bypass deep packet inspection, circumvent the firewall, and avoid a throttled connection.

EXPERT ADVICE: Our tests show that Astrill VPN has the best obfuscated servers and protocols for bypassing VPN blocks in China, Russia, and the UAE.

How to Stop Internet Throttling (4+ Methods)

If your ISP decides to throttle your entire internet connection, there’s not much you can do to stop it. Fortunately, ISPs usually use internet throttling in specific circumstances to regulate network performance. This can be avoided.

Installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the best way to stop internet throttling. By installing a VPN, your traffic will be routed through an encrypted tunnel, hiding your traffic and destination server from your ISP. This means you can use a VPN to bypass throttling based on the website you access.

However, a VPN won’t stop your ISP from prioritizing higher-paying customers, and it won’t allow you to sidestep a predefined data cap.

We’ve listed the four best methods to stop internet throttling below. Here’s a table comparing the pros and cons of each method:

1. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Pros
Cons
  • Can prevent throttling based on the protocol in use
  • Can stop internet throttling based on the websites you visit
  • Can bypass throttling in censored countries
  • Keeps your personal data safe on open WiFi networks
  • Can be toggled on and off
  • Can’t stop paid prioritization
  • Can’t bypass a data cap or bandwidth limit

Using an effective VPN service is the best method for stopping most forms of internet throttling. We recommend using ExpressVPN to stop internet throttling. Its military-grade AES-256 encryption and secure Lightway protocol prevents your ISP from inspecting your traffic.

Using ExpressVPN to bypass internet throttling


ExpressVPN encrypts your traffic, preventing your ISP from throttling your connection.

VPN software works by encrypting your internet traffic and routing it through a secure server in a remote location of your choice.

Your traffic is then assigned the IP address of the VPN server, before being forwarded to the destination website you’re trying to access.

This means the content of your internet traffic and the IP address of the website you’re connecting to are hidden from your ISP.

Diagram of a VPN stopping internet throttling

Using a VPN hides your traffic and online activity from your ISP.

Your ISP can’t throttle your connection based on the protocols you’re using as your traffic is encrypted in a VPN tunnel.

Similarly, your ISP can’t monitor the websites you’re accessing as the VPN server communicates with the webserver on your behalf. Your ISP can only see your VPN server’s IP address, and the IP address of the destination website remains concealed.

Installing a VPN can’t increase your data allowance or circumvent a limit on your data usage or bandwidth. Using a VPN can only hide the content of your data, not the volume consumed.

If your ISP separates all of your traffic into a slow lane for whatever reason, connecting to a VPN won’t have any effect.

EXPERT ADVICE: If you want to protect all of your devices from internet throttling, then consider installing a VPN onto your home router. A VPN router automatically encrypts the traffic of every device on your network, hiding it from your ISP.

2. Use an Encrypted Proxy Service

Pros
Cons
  • Can stop internet throttling based on the websites you visit
  • Can prevent throttling based on the protocol in use
  • Can be toggled on and off
  • Can’t stop paid prioritization
  • Can’t bypass a data cap or bandwidth limit
  • Can only be used on your browser
  • Difficult to manually configure

A proxy acts as a middle-man between you and the website you want to access. Like a VPN, your internet traffic is routed through a proxy server which communicates with the destination website on your behalf.

Unlike a VPN, a proxy will not always encrypt your traffic. An unencrypted proxy will still spoof your IP address, but it cannot bypass ISP throttling.

Your ISP can use deep packet inspection to analyze your internet traffic and monitor the requests you’re asking the proxy server to make on your behalf. This means your ISP can determine which websites you’re accessing if the proxy connection is unencrypted.

We recommend using a proxy configured with the Shadowsocks protocol to encrypt your traffic and stop internet throttling.

Proxies will only redirect the traffic from your browser window, though. It’s much easier to install a VPN and protect all your device’s traffic than it is to find an encrypted proxy that can only protect part of your connection.

The main menu of the Shadowsocks client

The Shadowsocks protocol isn’t easy to use or set up.

It’s also extremely difficult to set up your own proxy server and manually configure it to run on the Shadowsocks proxy.

If you want to attempt the installation process you can find download links for all major platforms and devices on Shadowsocks’ GitHub repository.

However, if you’re desperate to stop internet throttling without using a VPN, then using a proxy is your only reliable option.

3. Upgrade Your Data Plan

Pros
Cons
  • Can bypass paid prioritization
  • Can bypass a data cap or bandwidth limit
  • Can’t prevent throttling based on the protocol in use
  • Can’t bypass throttling based on the websites accessed
  • Upgrading your data plan is costly

If your current contract with your ISP or mobile provider is too restrictive, consider upgrading to a more flexible data plan.

Exceeding your allocated data limit can lead to bandwidth throttling, and subscribing to a lower-tier data plan can cause your data to be deprioritized in favor of other users.

Signing up to an unlimited data plan can allow you to bypass data caps completely, access fast lanes, and stream higher resolution videos.

Upgrading your data plan can be expensive and will typically require a higher subscription fee than the one you’re already paying.

4. Switch to a New ISP

Pros
Cons
  • Can bypass any form of throttling
  • Can bypass paid prioritization
  • Can bypass a data cap or bandwidth limit
  • Switching ISPs can incur extra costs
  • Requires a disruptive installation process

If you’ve tried all the methods above and still can’t stop your ISP throttling your internet, then you need to switch to a new ISP.

Changing to a new provider with better network management policies means you can access the internet with unrestricted connection speeds.

Comcast's termination agreement

Canceling your contract with Xfinity (Comcast’s parent company) requires you to pay for the full service and return any equipment.

This can be an expensive and disruptive solution. Leaving your current ISP can incur an exit fee, and your new provider may need to install additional hardware in your home.

There’s also no guarantee that your new ISP won’t throttle your internet connection, especially during periods of network congestion.

How to Test if Your Internet Is Being Throttled

Your ISP is unlikely to openly admit to throttling your internet connection. It’s also possible that your slowed internet connection could be caused by a number of other factors.

To test if your internet connection is being throttled by your ISP, try the following methods:

1. Use an Internet Speed Test

To test for throttling using an online speed test:

  1. Run a speed test using Ookla and measure your results.
  2. Connect to a VPN server.
  3. Run a second speed test and measure your results again.
  4. Compare your two sets of results.

You can use an online speed test tool, like Ookla, to test for internet throttling.

By running an initial speed test, you can compare your result with the advertised speeds of your chosen ISP. If there’s a large difference then it’s likely that your speeds are being throttled, but it’s not definite.

Speed test results from a throttled connection

A large decrease in your internet speeds indicates a throttled connection.

To be certain, turn on a VPN and run another speed test. Connecting to a VPN server will conceal your browsing activity from your ISP and allow you to bypass activity-specific throttling.

EXPERT ADVICE: Make sure you connect to a VPN server in your own country or one nearby for the best possible connection speeds.

Using a VPN to bypass internet throttling

Our internet connection was drastically faster with a VPN connected.

If your new test result is noticeably faster than the first test you ran, then it’s highly likely your internet connection is being throttled.

If the results are similar, it’s still possible that your internet connection is being throttled. A VPN will not bypass all types of throttling, so it’s possible that your connection is throttled in both speed tests.

If you notice a substantial difference in connection speed between your internet connection and the speeds advertised by your ISP, then it’s likely your internet is being throttled.

2. Compare Your Results to Netflix’s Fast.com

ISPs can throttle your connection based on the specific services you connect to. For example, your ISP may only throttle your connection if it detects high-bandwidth activities such as streaming and torrenting.

A screenshot of Fast.com's speed test tool

We can connect to Netflix’s servers without any restrictions on our connection speeds.

Netflix, aware of this practice, created its own speed test at Fast.com. It works by performing a series of speed tests while connected to different Netflix servers.

If your result comes back slower than what your ISP advertises, or slower than the result given by Ookla, then your ISP is throttling your connection to Netflix. If that’s the case, it’s also likely your internet connection will be throttled for other streaming services and bandwidth-intensive activities.

3. Use Google’s Video Quality Report (US & Canada Only)

Google’s proprietary Video Quality Report will assess your ISP’s performance against other ISPs in your area.

It carries out a series of speed tests while connecting to YouTube’s servers. Your result will then be compared to how your ISP typically performs as well as other ISPS in your area.

Google will then assign your ISP a rating depending on how well it performed.

EXPERT ADVICE: The Google Video Quality Report is currently only available in the US and Canada.

Here’s what each rating means:

  • HD Verified: You can reliably watch high-definition YouTube videos with minimal buffering (720p and above).
  • Standard Definition: You can watch YouTube videos at standard-definition (360p) with minimal interruptions but you may suffer from buffering on high-definition videos (720p and above).
  • Lower Definition: You will experience frequent buffering and poor video quality when playing YouTube videos at 360p and above.

Your ISP’s video quality rating is what you can expect from 90% of the time you watch a YouTube video on your connection.

Google's Video Quality Report tool

Google’s tool will assess your internet’s performance against other ISPs in the area.

The tool will also display a graph charting how your ISP performs on average over a 24 hour period in your area. You can see how your ISP’s performance varies by network congestion during different points in the day.

You can then select alternate ISPs to see how they compare in your area.

If your video quality rating is lower than advertised and noticeably worse than other ISPs in your area, then it’s likely your internet connection is being throttled.

How to Bypass ISP Throttling Without a VPN

You can use a web proxy to bypass ISP throttling without a VPN, but the proxy must encrypt your traffic.

An encrypted proxy conceals your internet browser’s traffic and spoofs your online location. This means your ISP can’t monitor your browsing activity and throttle your internet connection.

Wireshark results of an unencrypted proxy

StrongVPN’s unencrypted proxy extension failed to conceal our traffic.

Using a proxy that doesn’t support encryption leaves your traffic susceptible to deep packet inspection.

However, most encrypted proxies are offered as part of a VPN service – usually as part of a VPN extension for Chrome or other web browsers.

It’s unlikely that you’ll find a proxy that offers encryption in its own right. It’s also a difficult and lengthy process to manually configure your own encrypted web proxy, usually requiring a great deal of technical knowledge.

How to Stop Mobile Data Throttling

Due to the limitations of mobile networks, you’re more likely to experience internet throttling on your mobile data plan than on your home broadband connection.

Mobile networks are limited in several ways:

  • Latency: Mobile networks suffer from fluctuations in latency, compared to more stable broadband connections, which can cause online games and video calls to lag.
  • Soft Caps: Mobile network providers implement ‘soft caps’ that target high-bandwidth activities. For example, your contract may permit uncapped streaming speeds for the first 10GB of data and then throttle you to 10Mbps for the rest of your allowance.
  • Infrastructure: Cell towers provide limited bandwidth and slower speeds compared to broadband connections. Although, the introduction of 5G mobile networks may help close the gap in connection speeds.

Data caps are more common on wireless mobile deals than wired broadband packages too, so you can also expect your data usage to be restricted.

Even ‘unlimited’ mobile data plans often impose data caps that may throttle your speeds if exceeded.

T-Mobile's Magenta data plan

T-Mobile’s ‘unlimited phone plan’ still implements a monthly data cap.

You can’t use a VPN to stop data caps on mobile and connecting to a VPN can increase your mobile data consumption. However, a VPN can bypass any ‘soft caps’ on your data plan, such as limiting your streaming speeds after exceeding an allocated amount of data.

Installing a VPN is the most effective way to stop mobile data throttling. It will encrypt your device’s traffic and hide it from your mobile network provider, stopping them from slowing or restricting your traffic based on your activity.

We recommend installing Proton VPN Free onto your mobile device to stop mobile data throttling. It’s completely free, easy to use, and highly secure. It also comes with an unlimited data cap and fast connection speeds.

EXPERT ADVICE: For a wider selection of servers and faster connection speeds than a free VPN, try out ExpressVPN. It’s the best VPN we’ve tested and the overall best VPN for Android and best VPN for iPhone.

Does a VPN Stop Bandwidth Throttling?

Bandwidth throttling is the deliberate restriction of the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted over a set amount of time. For example, your internet service provider may throttle your bandwidth by capping it at 5Mbps.

This means your connection speeds can never exceed 5Mbps regardless of your online activity, the strength of your signal, or the amount of users on your network.

Connecting to a VPN does not stop bandwidth throttling as your ISP can still throttle the connection from your device to the VPN server.

If your internet connection is subject to bandwidth throttling then all your activity would be limited, including your connection to the VPN server.

Can You Bypass ISP Speed Limits?

If your ISP imposes speed limits on your internet connection, you can only bypass them by upgrading to a data plan with a more generous bandwidth limit or switching to a new ISP.

Speed limits are fixed to your connection and cannot be avoided, even with a VPN.

Why Is My Internet Throttling So Much?

If you’re experiencing unusually high amounts of throttling, it might be because your network is currently undergoing a period of high congestion.

Your ISP will throttle your connection when there’s an abundance of users online to ensure an even distribution of bandwidth.

Your internet might be throttled more often than not if you regularly consume large amounts of bandwidth. Torrenting, streaming HD videos, and playing online video games can all result in ISP throttling.

Do VPNs Throttle Your Speed?

VPNs very rarely throttle your connection speeds, but it is possible. During our testing, we found that Snap VPN throttled our download speed to below 1Mbps after just a few minutes of using the VPN. However, this is rare and not representative of most VPN services.

A VPN will always affect your connection speeds, though. Your traffic has to travel further, which means it almost always takes slightly longer. The further away you are from the VPN server, the slower your connection speeds become. The fastest VPN services will mitigate this as much as possible by offering servers in a variety of locations and using efficient VPN protocols.