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Internet Throttling: Why it Happens and How to Fix It

Date Published:  February 1st, 2022Date Updated:  May 01, 2024

Table of Contents

    1. What is Internet Throttling?
    2. Why Do ISPs throttle your bandwidth usage?
    3. Internet Throttling Test
    4. How to Fix ISP Throttling
    5. Frequently Asked Questions
    6. Conclusion

Nobody likes slow internet speeds, but a slow connection can indicate a few different problems. Sometimes, restarting your modem and router can solve the issues and you’re back online in no time. If your internet is slower than usual, your internet service provider (ISP) might be intentionally slowing down your connection, which is called speed throttling.

What is internet throttling?

Internet throttling, also called speed or bandwidth throttling, happens when your ISP intentionally slows down your internet connection’s speed. That typically means that you’re experiencing slower speeds, pages that won’t load, and lots of frustration.

Why do ISPs throttle your bandwidth usage?

There are a few different reasons you might experience data throttling from your internet provider. Based on when you’re experiencing slower speeds, a variety of factors could be throttling your network.

Data caps

A common reason for slower speeds is data caps. A data cap is a limit on how much data you can send over your internet connection. This is not necessarily about how much time you’re spending online, but what you’re doing with your connection.

If you reach your limit, your internet provider can reduce your bandwidth (giving you slower speeds) and limit your access until the next billing period starts. They may even charge you fees to access more data. You might think it’s tough to reach a data limit, but with today’s high bandwidth usage it’s easier than ever before.

Watching Ultra HD or 4K videos and playing games online use significant amounts of data because they require high bandwidth. Video conferences also use a lot of data. With graphics improving and more of our lives moving online, our connections require more data than ever.

Most ISPs offer a way to monitor your data usage throughout the month so that you can adjust along the way. But you can also choose a fiber internet provider that has no data caps. That way, you’ll never have to worry about grainy graphics or overage charges.

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Network congestion

If your internet provider doesn’t have data caps, a congested network could be causing slower speeds. This is particularly common for cable internet users because traditional copper-wired internet has a shared connection.

In other words, multiple households are using the same on-ramp to the internet highway. This causes slower speeds for everyone.

Historically, this was the most common during “peak usage hours” — like lunchtime or in the early evenings. But now, peak usage can be at any time of day (or for most of the day). It’s a lot harder to predict network throttling when people are using their connection to work from home, take online classes, attend telehealth appointments, game, and stream.

In addition to the congestion itself, sometimes internet providers will slow down connections to help more people get online. If your internet is slow at the same time every day, it might be network congestion causing throttling.

Paid prioritization

This one is slightly more complicated. Paid prioritization is something that can happen without net neutrality. In 2015, net neutrality guidelines were updated, and the common-carrier status was dropped for broadband providers. It also removed restrictions around blocking or throttling content.

That means that internet providers can prioritize some sites (such as ones they own) and make it harder to access others. While paid prioritization can be a problem, things could change depending on the political and legal landscape.

Internet throttling test

Now that you know why some internet providers slow your speeds, here’s four easy steps to check if your internet is being throttled.

First, run an internet speed test. Your results will show:

  • Download speed (how much data can be downloaded from the server per second)
  • Upload speed (how fast data can be sent to the server)
  • Latency, also known as ping (describes how much time your device requires to send and receive a response)
  • Retransmissions (what happens when a network is congested, and data needs to be re-sent)

Either take a screenshot of these numbers or keep your tab open, we’ll come back to this.

Next, connect to a virtual private network (VPN) and run the speed test again. Don’t have a VPN? We suggest choosing a cyber safety package that includes one, as it’s one of the best ways to stay safer online.

Once you’ve run both tests, compare the results. A VPN can work around some data caps, this helps you figure out if you’re experiencing a bandwidth choke. Compared to a standard internet connection, a VPN connection will be slightly slower. If your VPN is showing faster speeds, it is likely that your connection is being throttled.

Finally, compare your first test results to the advertised speeds on your internet plan. While your ISP guarantees speeds up to the speed on your plan, you should be experiencing speeds of at least 95% of your plan. If you’re consistently slower than that, it’s time to call your provider.

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How to fix ISP throttling

If you’re experiencing bandwidth throttling, there are three main ways to fix the problem.

Monitor your data usage

You can typically view this information in your internet provider’s app or online customer portal. If you notice consistently high usage, consider streaming less, streaming in standard definition (instead of HD or 4K), and joining work calls with audio-only.

Use a VPN

A VPN hides your IP address and destination. This means your internet provider can’t necessarily track your previous activity or regulate where you’re going. If you experience throttling, a VPN can get you closer to typical speeds.

Make the switch to fiber

Finally, you can switch to an ISP with no data caps. That way, you can enjoy a high-speed fiber internet connection without any interruptions to your daily life.

Making the switch to fiber internet could help with internet throttling in a few ways. Fiber internet uses dedicated connections. This means every house has its own on-ramp, and just like on the real highway, less traffic leads to fewer slowdowns.

Fiber internet is ideal for those who are constantly online or use data-intensive activities such as streaming or gaming. It provides fast and reliable connection for users who require high bandwidth for their online activities. With fiber internet, users can enjoy seamless streaming and gaming experiences without any lag or buffering issues. That’s why EarthLink has no data caps on any fiber internet plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is internet throttling illegal?

The short answer is no. ISP throttling is legal as long as the provider makes customers aware of it. The fine print typically includes this. This means by using the service and agreeing to the terms and conditions, you’ve agreed to internet throttling.

What does throttling mean?

Throttling is when your internet provider intentionally slows the performance of your internet connection.

How to stop ISP throttling without a VPN?

The best way to stop ISP throttling is to invest in a dedicated internet connection like fiber. Another way to stop throttling is to monitor your usage to avoid any potential data caps.


In the grand scheme of internet use, being slowed down by throttling is a common frustration that many of us encounter. Yet, understanding why it happens and knowing how to tackle it puts the power back in our hands. Whether it’s keeping an eye on your data usage, utilizing a VPN, or making the switch to a fiber internet provider without data caps, there are steps you can take to improve your online experience.

So, if your online adventures feel more like a slog through molasses than a swift sail across the digital sea, consider it a nudge to reevaluate your current internet setup. Perhaps, it’s time to explore new horizons with a provider like EarthLink that prioritizes your need for speed and uninterrupted connectivity. Remember, a smooth, fast, and reliable internet experience isn’t just a luxury — it’s essential for navigating the vast and ever-expanding digital landscape of today.

Erin Ellison

Erin Ellison

Erin Ellison is the Director of Content Marketing for EarthLink. Her superpower is translating complicated tech jargon and concepts into language we can all understand. Erin has more than 15 years of writing experience for businesses, agencies, and the media. She currently lives and works in Atlanta.

See all posts from Erin Ellison.