Does your provider limit your internet?

Low internet speeds can have various causes. Your Router may be outdated or it could be too far away for example from your TV or computer. Those solutions might be as simple as: restart your modem and router or upgrade to a mesh network† But another reason for your slow WiFi could be bandwidth throttling. As a consequence of the 2019 Supreme Court decision refuse to hear an appeal to net neutrality, ISPs can still legally choke your internet, limit your broadband if you stream more TV than they want and offer slower connections to websites owned by their competitors.

One solution for slow wifi — if in fact it is caused by internet restriction — is a virtual private network† Basically, ISPs need to see your IP address to slow down your internet, and a good VPN will shield that identity – although it has some limitations and drawbacks, which I’ll discuss below. We’ll show you how to tell if throttling is the cause, and if not, what to do to fix your crappy Wi-Fi.

Read more: 11 Ways to Make Your Wi-Fi Faster

Read more: The best WiFi extender for almost everyone

Step 1

Fix your slow internet connection first

So your WiFi is slow and you think your service provider is throttling your connection. Before jumping to those conclusions, it’s important to run through the usual troubleshooting list: make sure your router is centrally located in your home, reposition the antennas, check your network security, and so on. If you want to read more ways to optimize your wifi, check out our suggestions

If you’ve gone through the laundry list and your Wi-Fi is still stuttering, move on to the next step.

Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

Step 2

Test your internet speed

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Step 3

Find a reliable VPN

Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

Step 4

Compare your speed with the VPN

Then test your internet speed somewhere like Fast.com or speedtest.net† Compare the results with the same test when your VPN is active. Using a VPN should significantly decrease your speed, so the speed tests should show a discrepancy, with the VPN active speed being significantly lower than the VPN inactive speed. But a VPN also hides the IP address that providers use to identify you, so if your speed test with the VPN is faster then without the VPN, that could mean your ISP is targeting your IP address for throttling.

Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

Okay, this is the hard part. Even if you find out that your provider is throttling your internet, there may not be much you can actually do. Many people in the US live in regions with ISP monopolies or duopolies, so you may not be able to find a better provider. But here are a few helpful responses:

  • like you to do options, use the best provider in your area. Measurement lab provides a good resource for finding information specific to your region, and that can direct you to a more reliable ISP.
  • Use your VPN to maintain more consistent speeds. A VPN cannot solve a bad connection or other reasons behind your slow service, but it can reduce the throttling of unscrupulous ISPs.
  • Call your provider and threaten to switch providers if they don’t stop cutting your internet. This may seem old-fashioned and I can’t guarantee lasting results, but providers have responded positively to such tactics when I used them.

Read more about the best VPNs to use while working from homethe fastest VPNsand VPNs you can try for free before buying. And here are the best fast ISPs† Plus, how to find the best free wifi when you can’t connect at home and what internet speed do you really need

Correction, February 10, 2020: In this article, the 2019 net neutrality ruling was wrongly attributed to the Supreme Court, rather than to the DC Circuit Court deciding the case. The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.

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