Fear the Throttle: Internet Throttling in the Age of Cord-Cutting

On paper, cutting the cord sounds like a great idea: no more cable bills means you could save. But with the increasing popularity of data-heavy video streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, more and more Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are , placing caps on data usage, or choking off Internet during peak hours.

Throttling and data caps could make cord-cutting more frustrating and just as expensive — if not more so — than a cable TV subscription. Here’s how to tell if your Internet is being throttled and what you can do about it.

 

Should I Fear Throttling?

Streaming TV shows and movies takes up : web browsing, email, and social media use about 9 GB per month, while a single HD movie consumes 8 to 15 GB. Traditional ISPs, which benefit greatly from their , want to make it difficult — or at least expensive — for you to use that bandwidth to stream shows they’d rather you watch through their pay-TV subscriptions.

Despite net neutrality rules that protect an open Internet, . They can’t slow down an individual Internet connection, like a cord-cutter who enjoys streaming movies in the evenings. And they can’t throttle a specific content network, like data-heavy Hulu. But ISPs can still hinder all network traffic if it’s getting congested. This is why the buffering wheel often appears at night during peak Internet hours when you and your neighbors are all connected at the same time. And these net neutrality rules do not regulate retail broadband rates.

Some ISPs are already testing , charging additional fees for data used above a certain point. And these caps will be especially difficult for cord-cutters, as bandwidth usage increases as more devices are connected to the Internet for streaming, gaming, and surfing. To keep up with your bandwidth needs, you may need to pay for faster Internet and higher data caps — a cost that may offset the benefits of getting rid of your pay-TV subscription.

 

Am I Being Throttled?

If you think your Internet is being throttled, you should measure your Internet speed over time by using a free online speed test, like .

First, contact your ISP to verify what Internet speed you are paying for. You may be on a lower-tier speed plan than you thought and simply need to pay for faster Internet access. If, on the other hand, you’re paying for faster speeds than you think you’re actually getting, you’ll want to conduct a speed test. Remember that you most likely will not see the maximum speeds your ISP is advertising — they simply guarantee speeds up to a certain amount.

If you decide to test your Internet speed, you’ll want to do so several times throughout the day to determine whether or not if it is affected during high-traffic times. You’ll also want to run the test several times throughout the month: some ISPs will slow down your Internet toward the end of the month as you reach or exceed a certain data limit. Speedtest.net even allows you to sign up for a free account so you can compare your results over time, then compare your results to your Internet plan.

 

What Can I Do?

If the results of your speed tests don’t match the speeds you are paying for, you still may not be the victim of throttling. First, try to troubleshoot the problem with these tips.

  • Reboot your router and modem. Sometimes clearing the memory on the router and/or modem can clear any lag.
  • Plug your computer directly into your router. Wireless Internet can be spotty, but plugging your device directly into the router gives you access to more reliable wired speeds than a wireless signal.
  • Upgrade your equipment. If your router and modem are older, they may not be able to handle faster speeds.
  • Change your viewing habits. It may be helpful to switch to a lower quality video in your streaming service, or to switch your viewing time from evening, when traffic is more congested, to the morning or afternoon instead.

 

If those methods don’t work, you may want to contact your ISP to voice your concerns. Many cord-cutters have found that it’s cheaper and easier to bundle their Internet services and cable TV to get access to all the programs and Internet speeds they need. You may also want to switch to a different provider with better speeds or higher data caps. If all else fails, you can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

 

If you decide to cut the cord — or if you already have — be aware that your ISP may punish your viewing habits by throttling your Internet. Compare providers in your area to find the best deal for you.