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.
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 unlimited 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.
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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 remains the same, more or less. 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.
Bandwidth throttling FAQs
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.
Do all ISPs throttle bandwidth?
Yes, every ISP throttles its users’ bandwidth in some form to manage the traffic on its network. For example, a local fiber broadband exchange that potentially serves thousands of households needs to ensure bandwidth is evenly distributed between internet users. The ISP uses throttling to achieve this.
Will ISP throttling impact my ability to stream?
Yes, ISP throttling can significantly impact your ability to stream. ISPs may choose to throttle certain types of traffic, such as streaming video or audio services, to conserve bandwidth and reduce network congestion. For example, if you’re trying to watch a Netflix movie or listen to a Spotify song, the service will likely be degraded due to slower speeds caused by traffic shaping and other forms of network management from your ISP.
Additionally, some ISPs have been known to apply data caps that limit how much content you can consume before being charged extra fees for exceeding those limits. Therefore, before subscribing, users need to check with their ISP about any potential throttling issues that may affect their streaming experience.
Is it illegal to bypass throttling?
If you’re suffering bandwidth throttling, you may be worried about whether you can legally bypass it. Fortunately, it’s not illegal to bypass bandwidth throttling. There are multiple ways you can do this, and this includes the use of a VPN. So, if you are suffering throttling from your ISP, you can do so without having to worry about legal consequences. Of course, this assumes that VPNs are legal in your country (they are legal in the vast majority of countries).
Does AT&T slow down data?
Yes, AT&T does slow down data. Network congestion happens when many people try to access networks simultaneously, and the network cannot respond quickly enough. To provide a better customer experience, AT&T will reduce data speeds in areas where its network is congested.
This practice is known as “throttling,” and it’s meant to help ensure that everyone can get a good connection even during times of high demand. It’s important to note that this only happens when the network experiences very high traffic levels, usually during peak usage periods like rush hour or holidays, and not all the time.
What other ways can I speed up my internet at home?
Aside from using a VPN to bypass ISP throttling, there are a number of other ways you can speed up your internet at home:
- Move your router: The further your router is from your devices and the greater the number of walls and other objects blocking it, the weaker the signal is likely to be. Moving your router to a closer, more central location should have a positive impact on speeds.
- Use an ethernet cable: While going wireless is easier and more aesthetically pleasing, using a wired connection is faster and more consistent. Your Smart TV and game console can particularly benefit from this as streaming and gaming requires more bandwidth. Chances are your router has multiple unused ethernet ports.
- Disconnect unused devices: Having too many devices connected to your Wi-Fi can also negatively impact internet speed. If you have a lot (or even unlimited) mobile data, you may not need to use your Wi-Fi, freeing up bandwidth for other devices.
- Restart your router: Sometimes the solution is as simple as restarting your router. This clears its cache and temporary files that accumulate over time. All you need to do is unplug your router and wait around 30 seconds before plugging it back in. Note that it may take a minute or two for it to reconnect to the internet.
- Clear your cache: The issue may not be with your router but with your browsing device itself. Temporary files and data can build up in your browser and become outdated. This results in pages being slow to load. Clearing your cache and cookies can fix this issue.