How to Avoid ISP Speed Throttling With a VPN

Paula Novo

Paula Novo Last updated: September 17, 2021

How to Avoid ISP Speed Throttling With a VPN

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A slow internet connection is nothing new for most users. Usually, you can chalk it up to network congestion or bad weather. But what happens when your speeds turn sluggish out of nowhere? Well, your internet service provider (ISP) may be to blame.

ISPs have the ability to slow down your internet in a tactic known as speed throttling. It’s not a very popular selling point for users (I can sense you huffing in agreement as you read this), which is why many providers have stopped throttling speeds in recent years. Nonetheless, users should be aware of it in case their speeds do ever slow down unexpectedly.

In this guide, we break down how and why internet providers take it upon themselves to fiddle with your bandwidth as well as how you can personally avoid ISP speed throttling in the future with a private VPN.

What Is ISP Speed Throttling?

ISP Throttling diagram

You, the end user, almost never benefit from ISP throttling. Internet service providers, on the other hand, often have a lot to gain from it. To put it simply, internet speed throttling is when your ISP intentionally limits your internet speed or bandwidth. 

You may be thinking, “But I pay for unlimited data!”

This may be true. Unfortunately, even if you subscribe to a plan with a certain bandwidth, providers must still regulate their network, and sometimes that involves lowering the amount of data you can download from or upload to the web. Why, you ask?

The short answer: They do it to save money.

The longer answer: Let’s break it down below.

Why ISPs Throttle Your Speeds

graphic of a TV, clock, and gaming console

In order to avoid throttling, you ought to know why an internet provider does it in the first place. This will help you notice when it’s happening to you. Here are the main reasons:

Reduce network congestion

When an ISP throttles bandwidth at a certain time of day or slows down specific websites or services, it conserves network storage. This means it has less data to process and thus doesn’t need to invest in more or better equipment to handle the uptick in internet traffic. It’s a simple cost analysis, really. ISPs usually do this during peak hours of use between 7 PM and 10 PM when most people get online after work.

Support more users

In addition to the above, throttling speeds also allows internet providers to support more users. Limiting user bandwidth frees up space on their servers to process more data, which they often do by taking on new customers. Albeit, current customers won’t see that as great “support.”

Encourage subscribers to upgrade

Providers also benefit from this tactic because it oftentimes incentivizes customers to upgrade their internet plans. If your only chance to avoid buffering screens during a Netflix binge is to pay a few extra bucks per month, most people will cave. The downside is that, while heavy users may decide to upgrade, ISPs run the risk of earning a scathing review. It’s no wonder the internet industry is one of the top five most hated industries in America.

Limit specific websites

A bit contentious, ISPs may even pick and choose certain websites, activities, or services to throttle speeds for. This includes gaming sites, streaming services, and even P2P file sharing (i.e. torrenting sites). Either in the name of curbing data overages or enforcing copyright laws, providers have the ability to limit or outright censor what content you access online.

Peering disputes

Peering is a more nominal case to explain speed throttling. It’s when two ISPs share networks to save money on infrastructure costs. Generally beneficial, this relationship turns sour when one ISP ignores heavy usage on their network and refuses to make adjustments, which leads to network overload. The other ISP will take it upon themselves to right the ship so to speak, lowering subscribers’ bandwidth.

How to Check For Throttling

graphic of computer with speed test running

Typically, it starts with a hunch. If you experience poor internet speeds out of nowhere or certain sites are loading slower than others, it’s a good idea to check for throttling. The best way to go about this is to run a speed test with and without a virtual private network (VPN) connected. If your connection is noticeably faster when connected to a VPN, your ISP is likely throttling your bandwidth. We explain why that is further down.

Other tests you can run include The Internet Health Test or various M-Lab tests. These look for speed throttling during more common activities like streaming and torrenting.

If you’ve discerned that your ISP is throttling your service, it’s time to take action. In the next section, we outline the best ways to avoid slow speeds at the hands of your ISP.

How to Avoid ISP Throttling

When you’ve had enough of the throttling, know that there are plenty of ways to avoid it. We list the most effective options here:

  1. Use a reliable VPN.
  2. Upgrade your internet plan to include a higher bandwidth.
  3. Switch to a new internet service provider.
  4. Monitor your own data use to conserve your bandwidth.

Of all the solutions to choose from, we recommend first trying out a VPN. We believe all users deserve their personal privacy online. A VPN helps accomplish this by encrypting your internet traffic. This shields it from your internet provider and prevents them from monitoring or limiting your bandwidth.

Bypass Throttling With a VPN

graphic of different IoT devices

A VPN is hands down the easiest and most effective way to avoid ISP speed throttling. How, you ask?

Hide your IP address

Two main functions of a VPN are to hide your IP address and encrypt your personal data. The former masks your physical location by connecting you to a VPN server with a different IP address. Once anonymized, your internet provider (and other snoopers for that matter) are unable to attribute certain traffic back to you.

Encrypt your data

The latter prevents your ISP from even knowing what your traffic is. Are you streaming Netflix? Torrenting a newly-released video game? Aside from the data size, your ISP won’t be able to see whether you’re streaming or simply scrolling through Instagram, and thus can’t pick and choose what traffic to block. In this way, a VPN can help you achieve faster internet speeds (which is not the case with most free VPNs).

Set up a reliable VPN

Before choosing a VPN, it’s important to know that not all VPNs are created equal. Some providers offer free services that you end up paying for with your data. To start off right, here’s a list of the top five VPNs in 2021. Now, let’s get you set up:

  1. Choose a reliable VPN.
  2. Verify your email address and create an account login.
  3. Download the VPN app from your provider’s website or device’s app store.
  4. Sign in using your account credentials.
  5. Connect to any available server location.
  6. Enjoy your lag-free connection!

Best VPNs Against Throttling 

Of all the VPN providers out there, only a few can successfully circumvent pesky ISPs. If you want to avoid speed throttling, we recommend going with one of these premium VPNs below. Our VPN experts have thoroughly tested each service on their privacy, security, and performance to bring you the best options.

IPVanish

IPVanish offers military-grade encryption and privacy features for users at every experience level. It employs AES 256-bit encryption and multiple protocols to secure your data transfers at all times. This information-rich app also comes with unlimited device connections and promotes no-logging practices, which is crucial for users in need of a private VPN on multiple devices. If you’re interested in testing IPVanish, sign up with them risk-free for 30 days. 

NordVPN

Similar to IPVanish, NordVPN also uses AES-256 encryption and protects your online data by hiding your IP address and using a host of extra features like DoubleVPN routing and CyberSec (an ad-blocker) for added privacy. NordVPN is also known for the impressive speeds users get while connected to its servers – which is another testament that its encryption methods are working. You can try NordVPN on up to six devices at once to see how it fits your needs.

Private Internet Access

A longstanding VPN, Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the most reliable VPNs from a privacy and security standpoint. In addition to using AES-256 encryption and industry-standard protocols like OpenVPN and Wireguard, PIA offers multiple data leak protection measures. Its network also spans 78 countries, which gives users multiple options to bypass ISP throttling.

Conclusion

No one likes ISP speed throttling, but the good news is you don’t have to put up with it. Whether you change providers or upgrade your internet plan, there are many ways to avoid slower speeds. Our top recommendation would be to use a reputable VPN like the ones we list above, so you can not only bypass throttling but also enjoy better privacy and security online, too.