You settle down to watch a movie or your favorite show on Netflix and a few minutes in, it starts buffering—and keeps doing it every few minutes. Nothing can be quite as irksome and frustrating as that. It’s even worse when your connection suddenly becomes slow just when a do-or-die match that your favorite team is playing is getting started.

If you’ve experienced these issues, then it’s likely that you’ve been a victim of bandwidth throttling by your Internet Service Provider. However, is there a way of knowing for sure if your ISP is limiting your bandwidth and is there something you can do? Read on and find out.

No one is safe from being throttled by ISPs

Throttling of bandwidth by ISPs is nothing new. For years, ISPs everywhere have been slowing down some of their customers’ Internet connections at one time or another. It doesn’t matter who or where you are, your ISP can pump the brakes on your Internet connection depending on what you’re up to online: P2P file sharing, streaming online content, gaming, etc.

Such a measure is completely understandable if a customer has exceeded their monthly data limit or have defaulted on their monthly payments for the Internet service. But if these circumstances don’t apply to you yet you come across buffering almost on a daily basis, it can seem rather unfair.

Among the reasons behind this behavior by your ISP is that they are no longer able to deliver on their marketing promises of providing you with unlimited data because to do so, they incur a heavy cost.

In the past, nearly every Internet user enjoyed unlimited data and never worried about their ISPs slowing down their connections because all people did online was check their email and read a few articles. A lot has changed since then. Nowadays, people spend hours on their smartphones or PCs watching videos on YouTube or content from a streaming service. As a result, these customers use enormous amounts of data, far beyond the capacity of ISPs.

So, what options do ISPs have to deal with the problem? They could raise the prices of their services and lose customers to other ISPs or they could do what others do and begin setting a limit on their customers’ bandwidth.

There are, however, other reasons why your ISP may throttle your bandwidth:

  • During peak times, your ISP may slow down your connection speeds because there are too many users on the network vying for resources. In order not to lose its ability to provide all its users with a stable connection, the ISP might need to slow down the speeds so that it is able to process the uploaded and downloaded data.
  • Your ISP can arbitrarily decide to make it difficult for you to visit and use some websites. Now that there are no laws and regulations protecting users’ rights to net neutrality, ISP are now free to control the network in a way that prioritizes their services over those offered by their competitors.
  • ISPs can also regulate the traffic within a P2P network or traffic between your computer and certain bandwidth-hungry websites. For instance, users of content streaming services such as Netflix often complain that their ISP throttles content from the website. When asked, ISPs often use excuses like they’re performing a brief network optimization test.
  • In some cases, even the streaming services themselves throttle users’ bandwidth. To use Netflix as an example again, the streaming service at one point admitted to limiting the speeds of videos to improve the quality of the videos while ensuring their users don’t exceed their monthly data limits. However, they no longer do that.

Sometimes throttling might have good results

Nobody likes it when their connection speeds are slowed down by their ISP. However, there are cases where setting a limit on your own bandwidth (throttling your own bandwidth, in other words) might be a good idea. One such instance is when you’re using file-sharing services but don’t want to exhaust your entire monthly bandwidth at once. Or when you want to avoid slowing down a network that you’re sharing with other people.

Downloading and uploading a large number of files at once uses up more bandwidth than most other online activities. As a result, the network becomes congested and the speeds take a nose dive. In cases like this, setting bandwidth limits is useful. You can set a bandwidth cap for each task or schedule caps to occur at certain hours of the day.

Clearly, when you’re in control of your own bandwidth throttling, it’s not necessarily an evil thing. Limiting the bandwidth in your own network helps organize your online activities in a way that slows down your torrenting activities when you’re browsing the Internet, and speeds it up when you’re away from your computer.

How to know if your ISP is throttling your bandwidth

So you think that your ISP might be limiting your traffic? To know for sure if that is the case, our expert’s advice is to run a few tests in the course of a month, and if you discover your connection is being throttled, you should do something about it.

Battle for the Net created a nifty tool called the “Internet Health Test” to check whether your ISP is messing around with your connection. When you click the link, a test pops up in a new window. Tap “Start the Test” and wait a few minutes for the results to be displayed.

What to do if your ISP is throttling your bandwidth

If your suspicions are confirmed by the tests, then the only thing you can do to bypass the unfair restrictions set by your ISP is accessing the Internet through a VPN.

ISP’s use your IP address to control your traffic. A VPN disguises your identity by giving you a new IP address from one of its servers and thus prevents your ISP from messing with your online activities.

If you don’t yet have a VPN, it is about time you got one. Using a powerful VPN service makes getting around throttling easy. Simply launch the VPN client, select the country through which you want to access the Internet, and click “Connect.” The service tunnels your traffic through one of its servers and encrypts your data so no one can read it—not your ISP, not the government authorities, or criminal hackers.

Furthermore, most leading VPN services support P2P file-sharing and don’t place limits on your bandwidth (which would beat the purpose of using the VPN in the first place). Your online privacy is also guaranteed because a well-established VPN service does not log your online data. Give preference to VPN providers that offer highly intuitive apps for iOS, MacOS, Android, and Windows, as well as various routers and Linux systems.

Find out what the best VPN services for your specific location and Internet needs are by reading our numerous expert reviews.