People from all walks of life have access to the internet these days. More than ever before – and that number keeps growing by the day. The internet is becoming such an essential part of everyday life that some people are even starting to consider it a right or a public utility. However, all that new traffic also means that a whole lot of people are beginning to clog up the bandwidth, which isn’t a problem if internet service providers (ISPs) can keep up, but they aren’t always able. Especially during peak hours and weekends. So most (if not all) ISPs throttle their users to some degree. Meaning that they’re slowing down the bandwidth of one or more users to free up congestion or save on costs.

Ever noticed that the websites you visit are suddenly not loading as fast as they used to, or that during a heated online battle your connection starts to lag ferociously. Chances are you’re being throttled. ISPs especially prefer throttling people during specific activities like peer to peer sharing or torrenting, and when they’re gaming online as that uses loads and loads of data. So even though you pay for a certain amount of bandwidth, let’s say 30Mb per second, when you’re being throttled you could be experiencing much slower internet speeds. Plus, even if you have an unlimited data plan, your ISP could still throttle you after you’ve reached a certain bandwidth cap – no matter who you are.

The recent net neutrality issue has brought a lot of new attention to internet service provider’s bandwidth throttling practice and some in the FCC believe that the practice shouldn’t be frowned upon but rather embraced, so that those who are willing to pay more can get the bandwidth speeds they paid for. Others, however, feel that the internet should be equally available to all.

Here’s How To Avoid Being Throttled

If you’d like to keep your Netflix binge going, as usual, the first step would be to make sure your ISP is indeed throttling you. For most ordinary internet users this might seem like a daunting task, but there are many tools out there to help you do this.

You can use websites like Speedtest, Internet Health Test, or Netflix’s own FAST speed test to see how much Mbps you’re getting and if that corresponds with what you’re paying for. It’s also a great idea to do this test a couple of times a month to keep tabs on your ISP. Usually, if you’re being throttled, you’ll find slower speeds towards the end of the month as you near the data cap.

After confirming that you’re being throttled – or if you want to prevent it from happening in the first place – you can start looking at different ways to stop your ISP from slowing down your internet speed. We recommend one of two ways: using a VPN or using proxy servers.

Virtual Private Networks

A virtual private network (VPN) allows you to bypass normal traffic and instead send and receive encrypted data over a secure network which protects you from the prying eyes of your government, internet service provider, and hackers. So when you connect to the Internet via a VPN, your ISP can’t determine what type of data you’re sending or where you’re sending it, because it assigns you a new virtual IP address. It also has the added benefit of keeping your virtual identity and browsing history anonymous, which is a significant concern for many internet users. Furthermore, VPN services provide the ability to change one’s virtual location, which is handy to put it lightly. Online gamers favor this feature as it allows them to join any server around the globe and even acquire games despite any geographical restrictions. A VPN is a powerful tool with many uses (click here to find out more), and it’s becoming ubiquitous when it comes to using the Internet.

Proxy Servers

A proxy server is a server or computer that acts as an intermediary between the internet or another computer with specific data on it, and another computer requesting that data or service. This is a secure way to send and receive data, and so the practice is widely used for security reasons. Proxy servers also hide the IP address of the computer or server requesting the data which is why it’s a good option for those seeking to mask their IP addresses from their ISPs to avoid bandwidth throttling.

Whether you choose between using a VPN or proxy server is entirely up to you. But proxy servers are harder to set up and can only connect to one system or service, for instance, a torrent client or your web browser. So they aren’t necessarily as easy to use as a VPN. On the other hand, there is a chance that your internet service provider might still throttle you when you’re using a VPN because, while they can’t see what data you’re sending or receiving, they might still notice that you’re using a lot of it. So VPNs are particularly helpful when you know you’re being throttled for specific reasons such as streaming or torrenting.

In the end, there isn’t too much you can do about being throttled by your ISP. The most assured way of making sure you don’t get throttled is to find out at which point your ISP caps their users and try to stick to a level of data usage that doesn’t exceed that. It’s not the answer we want, especially right now with ISPs getting even more power due to the FCC being lax on net neutrality. But if you’re willing to try a VPN or proxy server, you might find that these options work well for you.

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Greg has been writing on and off about games since the late nineties, always with a focus on indie games. He started in 2000, which was the first gaming site to focus exclusively on indie games. These days he runs Cliqist, and New normative.