Bandwidth throttling is the practice of an internet service provider (ISP) intentionally slowing down, but not terminating, customers’ internet connections. There could be several reasons for an ISP to throttle your bandwidth:
- Network congestion is too high. Too many concurrent internet users are consuming more bandwidth than what is available.
- The ISP is trying to dissuade you from downloading or streaming certain content or from a certain source. Torrenting and video streaming are common examples.
- You’ve exceeded your data cap. Even so-called unlimited plans have soft caps that, after you’ve exceeded them, result in slower internet.
A VPN is a service that encrypts your internet connection and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of your choosing. The encryption prevents AT&T from being able to see the contents of your connection, and routing it through a remote server hides the websites, services, and streaming sources you access.
That means AT&T can’t discriminate against certain types or sources of data, such as BitTorrent downloads or specific streaming sites, while you’re connected to the VPN. All you have to do is sign up, install the VPN app, and choose a server location.
Our top recommendation is NordVPN. It’s the fastest VPN we’ve tested and unblocks a huge range of region-locked streaming services and other content, so it should give you full, fast access to the internet without throttling. It packs excellent security, 24/7 support, and the ability to unblock a huge variety of streaming channels into one low-cost package.
Can a VPN prevent AT&T from bandwidth throttling?
If you think AT&T is throttling your bandwidth, then a VPN is worth a shot. Many VPNs, including NordVPN, offer money-back guarantees, so there’s no risk or commitment involved.
Officially, AT&T doesn’t discriminate against any particular type of internet traffic. But some customers disagree, saying AT&T throttles their bandwidth selectively either on mobile or at home, such as when streaming or torrenting. If that’s true, then a VPN would solve their problems.
Here’s what AT&T’s website says about throttling:
“If a lot of devices are using mobile data at once, it can put a strain in our network. This is called network congestion, and we may have to slow your data speed to keep everyone connected.
On an unlimited plan? We may temporarily slow your speed at any time if our network is busy. We may also slow it after you use more than 50GB or 22GB of data in a single bill period.”
Unfortunately, a VPN won’t stop bandwidth throttling if you’ve exceeded your data cap. The VPN hides the contents and destination of your connection, but the data is still sent through AT&T’s network, so your data consumption more or less remains the same. Note that some VPNs use data compression to lower the amount of data consumed.
If AT&T does in fact discriminate against certain types or sources of data, or if it’s trying to alleviate network congestion by restricting torrenting or streaming, then a VPN can help.
How to prevent AT&T from bandwidth throttling
If you think AT&T is throttling your bandwidth, here’s how to stop it:
- Sign up for a VPN. We recommend NordVPN, which offers plenty of bandwidth, strong security, and access to a wide range of streaming services.
- Download and install the VPN app on your device.
- Open the VPN app and select a location. Nearer locations tend to have faster connections.
- Click the Connect button.
Wait a few moments for the connection to establish, at which point you’ll see a notification. You are now connected to the VPN and can bypass the types of bandwidth throttling discussed above.
How do I know if AT&T is throttling my bandwidth?
First, check which of AT&T’s plans you are subscribed to. Look through the fine print for data caps and bandwidth limits. Once you know your promised internet speed, test it. Speedtest.net is my top choice for measuring bandwidth.
If your download speed is significantly lower than the speed stated in your plan, you might be being throttled. Likewise, if your speed test results are significantly higher than what you’re getting while torrenting, downloading, or streaming, then those specific activities might be throttled.
Try connecting to a VPN and comparing speed test results again. If your speeds are much higher doing the same activities while connected to the VPN, that confirms your ISP is throttling bandwidth.
Is it legal for AT&T to throttle my bandwidth?
The FCC under the Trump Administration repealed the Open Internet Order, an Obama-era regulation that forced ISPs in the USA to treat all internet traffic roughly the same way. That repeal now allows ISPs to discriminate by application, service, device, or content.
That being said, AT&T says it does not engage in discriminatory bandwidth throttling and adheres to basic net neutrality principles.