The internet is supposed to be all about freedom, including the free exchange of ideas and unfettered access to a vast array of resources. But it doesn’t always work that way. While users generally want to send and receive data without any unnecessary controls by their internet service providers (ISPs), the interests of the ISPs tend to be quite different from those of users. They want to keep internet traffic in check, and to do that they often use some form of throttling. Luckily, there are ways to get around that.
The Provider’s Point of View
It’s easy for users to think of their internet provider companies — especially the big ones — as greedy, controlling corporations who cater to favored clients. But it’s clear that ISPs can’t just allow completely uncontrolled, unlimited access. Even mobile service providers who offer “unlimited” data plans have to assign some predetermined limit, maybe at 23GB or 60GB of usage. Despite the impression that there is an endless supply of data, ISPs do need to steward their data.
So from their side, providers manage their resources to maintain a profit. Part of that management is the control of traffic flows. There are valid reasons for limiting traffic at certain times and under certain circumstances. Sometimes the amount of data is just too much. Slowing down traffic can relieve network congestion. ISP throttling is also used to limit traffic when a user has reached a certain data usage threshold. It can also be used to optimize and prioritize traffic.
Is ISP Throttling Legitimate?
Providers have been throttling data for years based on the criteria mentioned above. It can all be part of a multi-tiered QoS offering. But there are other reasons that may not be so widely accepted. A user of peer-to-peer applications, for instance, may find his traffic slowed based on ISP policy. Such throttling practices have been challenged, such in the case of the FCC’s crackdown on Comcast. The FCC ruled against the company for throttling users who downloaded files through torrenting.
Net neutrality, a U.S. government policy that went into effect in 2014, was overturned in 2018. Its purpose was to level the playing field in terms of data usage. While other countries have continued to press for more regulation, the ramifications of net neutrality and its later reversal are still being played out in the U.S. On the one hand, some users think that it’s best to demand equal treatment for all. Yet others remain concerned about the increase in government regulation that comes with it.
Deep Packet Inspection
Every ISP has its own policies, of course, but some of them use intense data analysis known as deep packet inspection to discover what their users are doing. You might not think this is fair, but automated processes regularly dive deep into user data to discern what kind of internet activities the user is involved in.
This ISP snooping doesn’t seem fair, actually. Check the fine print to see what your ISP is doing, or maybe call them up and ask. If you’re concerned enough about it, you’ll want a solution to keep your curious ISP. out of your business.
Use a Proxy Server
Overcoming ISP throttling is possible with a proxy server. In this scenario, the user transmits all messages through an internet company that acts as a go-between. When a user sends his data through a proxy server, the traffic is disguised. The ISP then only sees that the user is connected to a different server. The content of the user’s data, such as torrenting or P2P file transfers, is not seen by the ISP.
The problem with a proxy server, of course, is that it doesn’t encrypt or protect data the way a VPN would. But for simply disguising data, a proxy service can be quite effective.
Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) not only disguises your user traffic, it also wraps it in a layer of encryption protection. Theoretically, when you have a VPN the ISP will have no idea what kind of data traffic you are sending and receiving. Check out other articles on what a VPN is and what it does.
The bottom line is, VPNs are perhaps the best way to overcome the traffic limitations placed upon users because of potentially increased traffic. While they are not foolproof, VPNs prevent ISPs from knowing what data traffic you are sending and why. It’s not their business, frankly.
Dealing with ISPs can be like a dance. They may notice that some kinds of internet activity are eating up their data resources, so they try to limit it somehow. And they will if they can get by with it. On the user side, it’s whatever you can get by with. If you can constantly download files that you want — whether P2P or some other data — you will want to push or pull your data through with the least interference possible. The ISP and its users continue to react and respond to each other, and everybody wants to get the upper hand. Meanwhile, the government often tries to step in and regulate it all. ISP throttling is probably here to stay — in a free economy anyway. The market acts and reacts. And it’s whatever the market will allow. Your best bet is to get a VPN and keep your internet activity as private as possible. The internet is a free market, is it not?