What is Internet Throttling?

Michelle Ricker By Michelle Ricker April 13, 2021

Summary: Internet throttling is when your internet service provider intentionally slows down your high-speed internet connection. Annoying, right? This could happen for a number of reasons, like monthly data caps or network congestion. If your internet is sluggish, we’ve got a few suggestions. 

If you’ve ever searched for reasons your internet is being slow, you’ve probably heard of internet throttling. But why would a provider want to slow down your internet speed?  

Internet throttling, also called speed, data, or bandwidth throttling, happens when your internet service provider (or ISP) intentionally slows down your internet connection. This can happen for several reasons, such as: 

  1. Reaching your monthly data cap. Data caps limit the amount of information you can send and receive online. Once you’ve hit that limit, you’ll either experience sluggish speeds or be hit with a large fee.  
  2. Network congestion. This is especially likely if you have cable internet, and you’re connecting in the evening when more people are online. An ISP may choose to throttle the whole area’s speed so that everyone can at least access part of the network and no one is fully locked out.  
  3. The use of paid prioritization. ISPs can slow down your connection to certain apps that use a lot of bandwidth (like Netflix) either to discourage you from using that specific site or to relieve some pressure on the network. Paid prioritization became legal when net neutrality laws changed in 2018. 

Regardless of why you’re experiencing bandwidth throttling, you’re probably frustrated with the slower speeds. So what can you do?  

How to stop internet throttling infographic three steps next to an orange stop sign

How to Stop Internet Throttling 

There are a few ways you can combat data throttling from your internet service provider.  

Check if Your ISP Has Data Caps 

The most common reason for bandwidth throttling is reaching a data cap limit, so you’ll want to check if your internet service provider limits your data. While some ISPs claim it’s to keep access and pricing stable, we know that everyone uses the internet differently. And now that we’re all online more than ever — with more devices than ever — data caps feel very restrictive.   

Not sure if you have a data cap, or how your usage compares to your limit? You should be able to find that information on your most recent bill. Some ISPs have different data caps depending on your plan, but your best bet is to choose a provider with no internet data caps, no matter what 

Stream in Standard Definition 

If you can’t switch to an ISP with no data caps, and still want to stream your favorite shows and movies, consider streaming in standard definition. The higher def your videos are, the more data you’ll use. So, standard definition will use the least amount of data while Ultra HD or 4K will use the most. Each platform is different, but a quick Google search will tell you exactly where to find these settings for any streaming service. The same goes for online gaming — the sharper your graphics, the more data you’re using. 

Install a VPN 

If your speed is dragging due to network congestion or paid prioritization, a virtual private network, or VPN, could help. A VPN hides your IP address (the device you’re connecting from) and your destination. That way, your internet service provider can’t track your activity or regulate where you’re going. Unfortunately, this trick won’t work if you’re experiencing a data cap issue.  

Switch to Fiber Internet 

Making the switch to fiber internet could help with internet throttling in a few ways. First, network congestion is far less likely. Cable internet uses a shared connection, meaning that multiple households are using the same on-ramp. Fiber internet uses dedicated connections, where every house has its own on-ramp — and, just like on the real highway, less traffic leads to fewer slow-downs.  

Some service providers who enforce data caps have removed them for fiber plans. However, there’s no guarantee that fiber internet data caps won’t be created in the future, so we’d still recommend an ISP with no internet data caps for any connection.  

Whether you call it speed throttling, bandwidth throttling, or data throttling, it’s frustrating when the high-speed internet connection you’re relying on is stuck endlessly buffering. If you need to switch internet providers for a plan that fits your lifestyle, we’re here for you. Experiencing speed problems, but you don’t think it’s due to internet throttling? We’ve got you covered there, too.   

Michelle Ricker

Michelle Ricker

Michelle Ricker is a Copywriter for EarthLink. She recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati with an M.A. in Communication and has more than 5 years of writing experience. She thrives on storytelling and well-placed punctuation. She currently lives and works in Atlanta.

See all posts from Michelle Ricker.

Filed Under: Internet

Reliable, high-speed internet is an essential part of our lives. Find out how it all works — from speed tests to fast fiber internet to the latest innovations (from an ISP that’s been here from the beginning).