Ever had the feeling that your internet speed is slower than usual? It could be for a few minutes or especially when you are doing something specific like watching Netflix, but it’s there. You restarted your modem, restarted your device, but the speed is just not quite right. Let us explain what’s really happening here.
This is actually happening as a result of your ISP throttling bandwidth to prevent congestion or maybe even run a monopoly. Bandwidth throttling actually became a hot topic in 2018 when Net Neutrality came under attack. As a result, people were becoming aware of the concept of bandwidth throttling – and Net Neutrality – but we’ll explain how the two are related a bit later.
To fully understand how you can prevent bandwidth throttling, you should understand how internet communication works.
Understanding the ISP’s Role
The ISP is more than an entity that provides internet service to your home. It is the chief officer that directs the flow of internet traffics. When you make a request for opening www.google.com, the request travels to the ISP’s server who then looks up the address through its DNS server and returns the relevant website to you.
A DNS server can be thought of as the address book for the internet. Behind the alphanumeric website names that you type in the web browser is a numerical IP address which is the actual address. Remembering numbers would be too difficult, hence why we type www.google.com instead of typing its IP address.
Why the ISP Throttles Bandwidth
With the power to see what websites and applications you are visiting, ISP has the ability to throttle the bandwidth of a particular user.
ISPs have long argued that the reason they do it is to prevent network congestion. It alleviates stress on the network during peak traffic. Another reason is sinister in nature. Suppose you are using 20Mbps package which doesn’t seem to keep up with your 4K content at times. The ISP can upsell you a better package by promising it would keep up with your demands.
Ultra high-definition “4K” TVs are becoming mainstream and digital streaming services are answering the call for UHD content. The problem – for ISPs – is that 4K content consumes a lot of bandwidth. If you are spotted consuming too much bandwidth in a short time then the ISP can move to apply bandwidth throttling.
Before streaming services rose to popularity, ISPs particularly disliked P2P/BitTorrent traffic – they still do.
How Net Neutrality Ties in With Bandwidth Throttling
Net Neutrality defines that everyone has access to an internet that is open and fair. Internet Service Providers such as Comcast cannot block or restrict certain types of traffic in an effort to sell users specialised lanes at a premium. It prevents ISPs from establishing partnerships with companies that are ready to offer premium so that they remain above their competitive.
For example, Netflix can partner with Comcast to have their traffic move through the fast lanes while other services’ traffic moves through the slower lanes. This kind of monopoly benefits the company that is willing to pay more and defeats the purpose of an open and fair internet. If such tactics existed years ago then a company like Netflix may not have risen to the success it has now. Ensuring the existence of Net Neutrality means that new companies have the same opportunities for success that big, established companies do.
The Federal Trade Commission, which established the law in the first place during the Obama administration, is now an advocate of repealing the law. The Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled a plan to roll back the rules of Net Neutrality. In October of 2019, the D.C Circuit Court of Appeals moved in favor of Net Neutrality and blocked FCC’s repeals – most of them – but allowed the states to setup their own laws as they see fit.
How VPN Prevents Bandwidth Throttling
When you connect to the VPN server, you thereby give it the responsibility of routing traffic. The ISP would be able to see that you are using a VPN but cannot see what websites you are visiting. It takes away the ability to throttle your bandwidth and lets you access the internet in complete freedom.
ISPs and governments don’t like VPN because it bypasses their restrictions. Thankfully, majority of countries have not banned the use of VPN.
Accessing geo-restricted content or blocked websites also becomes a possibility because the destination server reads the VPN server’s IP address and not yours. VPN services have servers in different countries and locations worldwide, giving you multiple choices for a safe and secure connection.
As a rule, you should never use free VPNs. They are risky, unreliable, and don’t offer the same level of features that paid VPNs do.
While much of Net Neutrality was saved in October, advocates believe that allowing states to run their own rules is very troubling. California has moved in favor of keeping the internet open, so that’s a relief for Californians. As the battle for an open internet continues, you can use a VPN to bypass such restrictions imposed by the ISP and government.
If you are in the market for a VPN and confused over picking one, check out our list of top VPN services.