Is My Internet Being Throttled? ISP Throttling and How to Stop It

Is your internet being throttled? Your internet service provider could be slowing down your connection, so here’s what to do about it.
Sara J. Nguyen, Author
Catherine McNally, Editor
Last updated Sep 12, 2022

Slow internet speeds are frustrating. Whether it's preventing you from working remotely efficiently or watching your favorite TV show, you need to remedy the issue quickly. One reason your internet connection has slowed is because of ISP throttling.

In this article
What is ISP throttling?
Is my internet being throttled?
How to stop data throttling
What is paid prioritization and net neutrality?
Which internet providers have unlimited data?
Is ISP throttling legal?
Internet throttling FAQs
Bottom line

What is ISP throttling?

ISP throttling, also known as bandwidth throttling or data throttling, is when an internet service provider (ISP) deliberately limits a connection's bandwidth. It could lead to you experiencing slow internet speeds. By slowing down your internet connection, ISPs have more control on providing quality service to all customers using the same network.

Why do ISPs throttle internet speeds?

There are some legitimate reasons an ISP would decide to limit a person's bandwidth and internet speeds. Some of these reasons include:

  • Congested network traffic: Throttling provides a way for ISPs to ensure quality service for all users. People with heavy bandwidth usage tend to slow down internet traffic and cause problems for people who are trying to use low bandwidth services such as sending an email. By throttling certain types of traffic, ISPs could fairly distribute the bandwidth among users.
  • Data caps: Some ISPs limit how much high-speed data you can access in a month. If you go over the limit, ISPs won't disconnect your service, but they will slow down the speed. Very few ISPs have truly unlimited high-speed network connections.
  • Forbidden activities: If an ISP provider detects a user using the internet for illegal online activities, it can throttle internet speeds.

Other reasons why an ISP would throttle internet speeds are for monetary gain. This is known as paid prioritization. Here are some examples:

  • Premium plans: ISPs could create a premium plan which gives you a faster internet connection, and regular users will get a slower network.
  • Throttle competitor websites: Companies could pay ISPs to have their website or app run faster than specific websites owned by their competitors. For instance, a streaming service could pay an ISP for their site to have a faster connection and subsequently cause streaming competitors to run slower.
  • Individual sites paying for fast connections: ISPs could ask individual websites to pay for faster load times. A quick load time is crucial for consumers to use a website, but the site may load slowly if the website owner doesn't pay the ISP for the fast connection.

Is my internet being throttled?

Do you have slow internet speeds? Let's review how to determine whether your ISP is throttling your internet connection, and what to do to fix the issue.

Can my mobile data be throttled?

Mobile data can be throttled by your phone company. Many phone plans have a data cap limiting how much data you can use on your mobile device. Once a phone crosses the data cap, internet speed slows down. A Northeastern University study confirms nearly every U.S. cellular provider is throttling.

If you haven't reached your data cap but still experience slow speeds, it may be because of deprioritization. When mobile traffic is congested, phone networks prioritize certain providers over others. This continues until there is less traffic on the mobile network.

Look for these signs of internet throttling

There are a few telltale signs of internet throttling. These can include:

  • You’re unable or it takes a long time to download files, apps, etc.
  • Streaming services are buffering
  • Some websites aren't loading or are slow to load
  • Your connection keeps breaking up or repeatedly stops working in the same session
  • Your overall internet connection is slower than usual

If your internet connection is extremely slow, it can be an indication that throttling is occurring. The next steps are to run some tests to determine whether throttling is the issue.

Run an internet speed test

Conducting an internet speed test can help determine if your internet is throttled or not. You'll need access to a virtual private network (VPN) and an online internet speed testing tool. A popular speed testing website is Speedtest by Ookla.

Here is how to run an internet speed test:

  1. Use the internet speed testing website and note the ping, download speed, and upload speed.
  2. Turn on your VPN and connect to a server.
  3. Repeat step one.
  4. Compare the numbers. If you’re seeing slower speeds without a VPN on, then your connection is throttled.

If your connection isn’t throttled but you're experiencing slow internet speeds, then it may be time to upgrade your internet plan. Your current plan may not be capable of running multiple devices with the usage your household requires. Other troubleshooting tips you could try to speed up your internet include:

  • Restarting your router
  • Connecting to your router or modem with an Ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi
  • Shutting down unused windows and apps — Chrome has been known to cause slow speeds
  • Pausing internet bandwidth-hogging downloads

Check out our internet speed guide to help determine the minimum download speed you may need to consistently connect to the internet.

What if my internet speed is fine but my computer is slow?

If you find that your computer is slow, it may be time to take action against a computer virus. Viruses or malware take up a large amount of memory and can lead to slow computer performance. Other computer virus symptoms can include unfamiliar internet extensions or frequent pop-up windows.

Download an antivirus software program to help detect viruses and protect your computer. A good antivirus software program will scan your computer and delete infected files.

How to stop data throttling

Once you determine your ISP is throttling internet speeds, you'll need to know how to fix it. There might not be much to do to completely stop throttling, but there are ways to mitigate the issue.

Use a VPN

A VPN takes a public network and makes it private. It provides you with privacy and lets you anonymously send and receive data. 

A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and keeps it private from even your ISP. Therefore, an ISP is less likely to throttle your traffic if it isn't aware of the websites or services you are using on your device. VPNs can also help you access geo-restricted content like Netflix shows from the UK.

Some of the best VPN providers include:

However, there is still a chance your connection could get throttled during peak hours. An ISP may still need to manage a congested network and could throttle your usage.

Use a proxy server

A proxy server is an application between you and the internet. It hides your IP address from the websites you’re visiting and your ISP. Because your ISP doesn't know who you are, it's less likely to throttle your internet connection.

Paying for a private proxy server could speed up your connection speed and prevent a congested network from slowing it down.

Avoid a data cap

If you face throttling problems because you hit your data cap, it's time to get in the habit of monitoring your data usage. Most ISPs offer data plans with a cap, which means you have a limit on how much data they can use in a month.

You can watch your data usage by checking your broadband or mobile cellular account. This will give you an idea if you’re using more data than necessary.

You can avoid hitting your data cap by using less data. Some strategies can include checking your data usage daily, watching videos only on a low-quality setting, or preventing apps from running in the background. Otherwise, it may be ideal to purchase a plan with a higher data cap.

Some people think an unlimited data plan is the end of their data cap problems, but it's not always the case. Phone companies could still throttle your data if the network is congested or if you use a high amount of data in a single pay period. For example, AT&T may slow down your connection on an unlimited data plan if you use more than 50 GB or 22 GB.

Use the internet during non-peak hours

One of the reasons why ISPs throttle internet speeds is due to too much network traffic. Once network traffic returns to regular levels, the internet speed is no longer throttled. Waiting for non-peak hours will make it less likely that your high-bandwidth service will be interrupted.

Non-peak hours are when people are not using the network. This can include times like when everyone is sleeping or no one is home. A person who wants to use a high-bandwidth service like torrenting will probably want to avoid evenings because everyone is home from work or school.

Shop for a new internet provider

Sometimes there’s no bypassing an annoying internet provider. If throttling continues to be an issue, it may be worth changing to a different provider.

Besides the usual concerns of reliability, cost, and speed, you should also consider looking at a provider's terms of service. This can provide specifics on what the provider does when data limits are reached or when they may throttle your connection.

By moving to a better internet provider, you may enjoy faster speeds without fear of getting throttled.

What is paid prioritization and net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that ISPs should provide all users and internet data with equal access. Paid prioritization is the opposite idea of net neutrality. Paid prioritization is when ISPs prioritize certain websites, services, or premium plan subscribers based on who is paying for it.

For example, in 2009 Apple throttled iPhone users using Skype at the request of AT&T. Net neutrality would have prevented this situation from happening by ensuring ISPs can't block certain sites.

Which internet providers have unlimited data?

Pretty much all internet providers have data caps. Even if they offer an unlimited data plan, some internet providers still throttle speed after a certain data limit. Some internet providers with unlimited data plans include:

In 2015, the FCC voted in favor of net neutrality rules including:

  • ISPs can't discriminate and block websites or apps.
  • ISPs can't throttle data as long as it's legal content.
  • ISPs can't create premium, fast plans for companies and consumers and a slower option for people who don't pay for it.

However, net neutrality rules were overturned on a federal level in 2018. Individual states could impose net neutrality, such as California, which created a 2018 law to prevent ISPs from throttling connections.

Internet throttling FAQs


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What does throttling mean?

Throttling is when an internet service provider intentionally slows down the speed of an internet connection. It may do this to help manage network congestion, to give paid prioritization to certain sites or users, or because a user has passed their data cap.


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How do I stop internet throttling?

To stop internet throttling, you may want to start using a VPN, stay within your data limit, or use the internet during non-peak times. If throttling is a consistent issue with no clear cause, you may want to change internet providers to receive better service.


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Is throttling internet speed illegal?

On the U.S. federal level, internet throttling became legal after net neutrality was overturned in 2018. Individual states, such as California, have passed laws to prevent ISPs from throttling internet speed.

Bottom line

Internet throttling can be annoying, but sometimes networks must slow down internet speeds to provide fair service to all users. However, with the overturning of net neutrality regulations on a federal level, there’s not much stopping internet providers from throttling a connection for monetary purposes.

If you notice a slow down of internet speed and haven't passed a data cap, internet throttling may be to blame. Run a test to determine whether your connection is being throttled by your ISP. Depending on your options, it may be best to change providers or use some type of proxy server.

Another possibility to deal with internet throttling is to start using a VPN. It can help improve your network speed and keep your data private. This may be one of the best ways to stop your internet connection from being throttled without having to change providers or use technical equipment.

Author Details
Sara J. Nguyen
Sara J. Nguyen is a freelance writer specializing in cybersecurity and marketing. Her educational background in public relations helps her work closely with companies to provide informative and engaging content for their audience. When she's not writing, you can find her planning her next international trip.