Your Objective Guide to Internet Throttling
For years, subscribers have accused cable Internet Service Providers (ISPs) of capping downstream and upstream speeds at numbers well below what is advertised, otherwise known as bandwidth throttling. Recently, these claims have come to a head. Investigations found that some Internet companies were intentionally slowing service for heavy users, reducing bandwidth usage during peak times of the day, or degrading Internet performance for certain sites as a way to convince heavy-use application providers — including video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu — to pay for better content delivery. Internet throttling has become such a hot-button issue that President Barack Obama has publicly endorsed net neutrality, saying there should be no toll takers for online services. Last year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved stricter net neutrality regulations, which aim to protect the openness of the Internet. Still, this doesn’t completely ban cable providers from throttling. Your cable provider won’t be allowed to slow individual Internet connections or reduce speed for a major content network, but it can slow down all network traffic. Even with FCC regulations, Internet throttling is still a common complaint against many cable ISPs. Is My Internet Being Throttled? If you want to determine whether or not your ISP is throttling your bandwidth, run an Internet speed test. This is an easy way to run a quick Internet health check. Once initiated, the test measures the time it takes for your ISP to reply to your request to contact a “client” to either downstream or upstream content. If you really want to know whether your Internet is being throttled, though, you’ll have to do these speed tests numerous times over a month. For example, if your Internet service seems slow during peak nighttime hours, run the test during the morning and again in the evening to compare the results. If you suspect your provider is capping bandwidth once you’ve hit a data limit, analyze your tests from the beginning of the month against those at the end. Regular tests will be your best indicator. Do All Cable Companies Throttle? You won’t find throttling mentioned in many cable company contracts. Speed capping and streaming bandwidth allocation generally fall under “performance management” practices, and the details in user agreements aren’t always easy to navigate. To clear things up, here’s a quick guide to three of the biggest cable ISPs’ past and present throttling practices. XFINITY History: In surveys by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, XFINITY has had the lowest customer satisfaction ranking of any company or government in the U.S. for years. They’ve also come under fire for forcing Netflix to pay for additional bandwidth to meet demand from their already paying customers. But company heads have promised change is coming. In early 2015, CEO Brian Roberts said that XFINITY would invest millions of dollars to improve customer service, including costs for hiring 5,500 call center representatives and hundreds of additional technicians. And recent tests by the FCC show that XFINITY is one of the most consistent ISPs, regularly delivering more than 95 percent of promised speeds to at least 90 percent of its subscribers. Do they throttle? XFINITY’s online forums are full of pages of customers complaining of throttling, especially on upstream speeds. The company, however, has actively denied these claims and currently maintains that throttling is not an active practice. While XFINITY’s contract terms do not directly spell out their performance management practices, they do clearly state that customers are not guaranteed their subscribed cable speeds at all times. Generally, customers should expect to see speeds up to — but not necessarily at — their specific purchase level. Time Warner Cable History: Time Warner Cable has come under fire for throttling YouTube videos, an issue they defended by explaining video buffering is “the way the Internet works.” TWC was also the first provider to be accused of violating the FCC’s net neutrality rules, and a new complaint filed against Time Warner Cable by a webcam operator alleges that the company was charging fees for better Internet traffic. TWC has been fairly open in responding to throttling complaints, addressing the topic in corporate blog posts. Do they throttle? First-hand customer accounts say yes; TWC says no. Their residential subscriber agreement does not guarantee that customers will always access the Internet at the maximum speed to which they’ve subscribed. Cox History: Cox has a history of throttling their Internet during congested periods. In the past, they have also set usage limits on broadband accounts, granting more usage to customers who pay for upgraded service. Recently, though, Cox has started offering residential gigabit services to select U.S. locations. This service is 100 times faster than the average U.S. Internet speeds, meaning subscribed customers will have fewer speed issues overall. Do they throttle? Cox’s Internet service disclosure states that the company “does not shape or throttle Internet traffic.” They are one of the only ISPs that directly mention the term throttling in their contract terms. Overall, you’ll be hard pressed to find a new cable Internet provider that hasn’t been accused of throttling at some point. It’s also important to remember that cable Internet can slow down during peak usage times for reasons beyond poor performance management. Thanks to new FCC regulations, major ISPs are now managed under a system of government-controlled checks and balances. However, if you’re unhappy with your current cable services, don’t hesitate to look into other ISPs or cable alternatives — there are plenty of other plans and options that can meet your Internet needs.