If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to bypass data caps and ISP throttling, congratulations! Your search is over. Today, we’ll show you how to use a VPN to remove artificial limits on your Internet performance so you can stream, download, and browse without lag.
Even if you’re not familiar with the term “throttling”, you’re likely very aware of its effects. After all, who hasn’t been stuck waiting for a page to load, a file to download, or a video to buffer?
Sometimes this is a simple product of traffic, if a lot of people are trying access the same data as you, things are going to slow down a bit. It could also be a hardware failure somewhere between you and your target website.
However, there is another, more insidious scenario which is unfortunately quite common: your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may be artificially pumping the breaks on your connection because they don’t approve of your activity on their network. It stinks, but it happens all the time.
Shocking, we know. You may have several questions like “why is this happening” or “is this even legal”? We’ll address these questions, and show you how to avoid the issue in the first place. Read on!
How to bypass ISP throttling
To bypass ISP throttling, you don’t need to file a complaint, hire a lawyer, or call the FCC. While we do encourage you to lobby for your digital rights, these methods can take months or even years, and will do nothing to solve your immediate issues.
Instead, try using a virtual private network, or VPN, which can smash ISP throttling within seconds of installation onto your device.
What is a VPN, and how does it work?
In short, a VPN is probably the single most important tool for ensuring your privacy online. But, what does privacy have to do with throttling? Absolutely everything!
Essentially, ISPs can artificially slow your connection down because they a) can see what you’re doing and b) don’t like what you’re doing. You can’t do anything about that second point, but you can effectively hide your activity online using VPN encryption.
So what is encryption? It is a technological method that wraps every packet of data leaving your computer in an obscuring layer of code. Without a decryption key, nobody can make heads or tails of your data stream–it all just looks like a jumbled mess of scrambled code.
This is significant because your ISP is legally barred from indiscriminate actions against data they can’t interpret. In fact, encryption is a cornerstone of so many online services, like banking, that it is pretty much sacred. Basically, ISPs will not touch encrypted data because it would negatively effect the security of virtually all legitimate businesses.
That means if your ISP makes a habit of throttling certain types of traffic (P2P file sharing is a common one), you can fire up your VPN, encrypt your connection, and get a free pass to do what you like without your ISP ever being the wiser.
Please note: VPN encryption cannot help you if you’ve simply gone over your monthly data allotment. It only protects you from ISPs discriminating against your activity, be it streaming, downloading, VoIP, or simply browsing blacklisted sites.
Best VPNs to beat ISP throttling
Now that you know a bit about VPNs, you might be ready to dive right in. But which provider should you choose amidst a crowded marketplace? We’ve done the hard work for you, and narrowed the field down to the top two VPNs proven to beat ISP throttling:
ExpressVPN‘s name should tip you off as to its main offering: speed. While all VPNs introduce slowdown to your connection to some degree, ExpressVPN has staked its claim on bringing this overhead to a bare minimum. This is in large part due to their robust server network, which spans 3,000+ nodes in 94 countries worldwide, ensuring that no matter where you go, an optimal connection is close at hand.
What’s more, ExpressVPN utilizes the OpenVPN encryption protocol as standard, which is designed to balance privacy and performance. With 256-bit AES encryption, nobody– not your ISP, not the government, not any hackers–will be able to crack your connection. That means you can sneak past ISP throttling easily, without suffering slowdown by your VPN. The best part? No logging, so you can be sure your VPN usage doesn’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs for ISPs to sniff out.
BEST OVERALL VPN: ExpressVPN is our top choice VPN. Our readers get an exclusive 49% discount and three months FREE on the annual plan. Try it risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee attached.
NordVPN has been around forever, but it’s no dinosaur. In fact, it currently boasts one of the most modern and meaningful array of features you’ll find anywhere. Need servers? NordVPN’s got them in spades–nearly 5,700 nodes dot 60 countries worldwide, ensuring that you always have access to a nearby server for optimized connections. What’s more, they’ve got tons of specialty servers tuned for anti-DDoS, P2P, onion over VPN, and even double encryption (among many others).
NordVPN offers impenetrable 256-bit AES encryption over OpenVPN, an independently audited no-logging policy, absolutely no caps on data or filetype restrictions, and is available on virtually any device you could want. All of this comes in a sleek, affordable package.
BEST BUDGET VPN: NordVPN is your cheapest solution for a premium service. Readers get the 3-year plan with a 70% discount at just $3.49 per month. All plans include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
How to detect throttling
As there are any number of factors which contribute to slow Internet connections (like geography, hardware, and time of day), it can be difficult to assess whether your ISP is throttling your connection or not.
Here are a few tools you can use to identify throttling:
Internet speed tests
A tried and true technique is visiting a site like testmy.net or speedtest.net, running the test, then comparing the results to the speeds you were promised by your ISP. Be aware, however, that most ISPs will state your maximum speed, rather than your average speed, so it makes sense to run several tests over the course of the month, then check your daily results against that average.
If it is significantly lower, consider your recent activity (have you been torrenting, streaming, or using VoIP a lot?) and the time of the month (are you running close to your data cap?). This can give you a good idea of whether or not you’re being targeted by ISP throttling.
The Internet Health Test
If your internet connection has any weaknesses, or your ISP is throttling your connection, then you can detect it with The Internet Health Test. This test makes use of code and infrastructure from M-labs, and routes your traffic to a device which works as a measuring point outside your ISP’s network.
Once analyzed in this way, any discrepancies between TIHT and your normal network performance become readily apparent, and may solidly point to ISP throttling. Once again, however, we recommend you test several times over a period of time to get a holistic view of your network performance.
Ask your neighbors about their Internet
Believe it or not, non-technical methods can be quite revealing as well. Your neighbor may be on an identical data plan to you, while sharing the same infrastructure. If you have dramatically different speed test results, it may be worth having a discussion to compare how you use your Internet. If one of you streams on YouTube on a daily basis, for example, this could be an indicator that person is being targeted by ISP throttling.
How to evade ISP throttling with a VPN
Once you’ve identified and confirmed ISP throttling, picked out your VPN provider of choice, and installed it onto your device, the hard part is over. To actually bypass throttling, you simply have to follow these instructions:
- Use your account credentials to log into your VPN app
- Select a server close by to your location, and connect to it. (For example, if you live in Athens, Georgia, you’d look for a server in Atlanta.) Alternatively, many VPNs provide an auto-connection option which searches out the fastest connection currently available to you.
- Once the VPN is activated, check to make sure there are no IP leaks. Simply go to ipleak.net, and make sure that it displays the same server location you chose in step 2. This step is optional, but useful to ensure your VPN is working properly.
- Enjoy the free and open Internet to your heart’s content! With a VPN, you’ll be able to stream on Netflix and YouTube, share files via BitTorrent, and make VoIP calls without dealing with the scrutiny of an overzealous ISP. Please note: Privacy Sniffs doesn’t condone piracy, and it is up to you to act within the bounds of your country’s laws.
What is Internet throttling?
In simple terms, throttling is the practice of intentionally slowing down your internet speed by your ISP. What’s more, the practice is far from uncommon, especially now that Net Neutrality is under attack.
Of course, corporate greed isn’t the only reason throttling happens; it can be necessary to balance an ISP’s network traffic and reduce mobbing. However, most ISPs are rather aggressive with this practice, especially targeting certain types of high-data traffic like streaming, P2P file sharing, and even VoIP.
Why do ISPs throttle connections?
The most benign type of throttling happens when you’ve exceeded your data cap for the month. That’s all fair, as you get what you pay for. However, there’s plenty of unfair throttling out there.
Let’s say you have unlimited Internet, and you make heavy use of that. While your contract technically entitles you to this type of activity, ISPs may feel hard-done by, and reach out to attenuate your activity via throttling.
ISPs may even be compelled by governmental agencies to clamp down on certain types of traffic as an indirect way of enforcing censorship of the Internet. Bandwidth throttling can target individuals or entire regions connected to the ISP’s network.
Essentially, bandwidth throttling is a highly effective tactic of dissuading certain types of online activity without outright banning it (though, this does happen too).
Legitimate reasons for throttling
We’ve already talked about some of your ISP’s motives for enforcing throttling, but there are plenty of legal grounds for them to do so as well. A few of these are:
- Traffic arrangement and optimization
- Stopping DDoS attacks
- Enforcing data transfer limits
- Controlling network mobbing at peak demand times
Every system has limits to its overall capacity, and ISPs should be able to assert some control to remain within normal operational tolerances and stave off an unstable network.
The focus of this article is not to blast ISPs for doing their job, but rather to give end users the tools they need to evade corporate overreach when it occurs.
Is ISP Throttling Legal?
ISPs have no lack of ways to justify throttling, but is it legal? Well, it obviously depends heavily on which country you live in. In the EU, for example, a 2014 law bans discriminatory throttling for any reason (though some countries, like Portugal, infamously ignore this regulation to the detriment of their citizens).
The U.S. once had strong net neutrality protections in place, but the FCC has since rolled back those regulations. There is no longer anything stopping the likes of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile from implementing fast lanes other than consumer outrage, though the negative effects are so far slow to come. Time will tell, and it is likely that other countries will follow suit if American ISPs begin to throttle content more aggressively as a daily norm.
ISP throttling stinks, but it’s unfortunately set to become more commonplace as net neutrality regulations erode around the globe. To be sure, there are some legitimate reasons ISPs have to manage speeds on their network, but in our opinion, censorship isn’t one of them. If you feel like you’re being unfairly targeted by your ISP’s throttling measures, you can take back control with a VPN.
We’ve showed you today how to diagnose throttling, and how to fix it with one of our recommended VPN providers. If you run into any issues, please feel free to leave a comment or question below.