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  • Is Your ISP Throttling Your Internet Speeds?
Technology Articles > Computers > Networking > Is Your ISP Throttling Your Internet Speeds?

Like it or not, your high speed Internet provider may be slowing down your download speeds. How can they do that? For one, it's incredibly difficult to detect. For another, they can still promise you the fast speeds that coaxed you into signing a contract with them--but that won't stop them for slowing down data transfer rates for certain types of content.

Why and how would an Internet service provider do this? It's because the more bandwidth that their users eat up, the slower and less reliable the network becomes for the rest of the users. This is becoming more of an issue recently due to the vast array of high resolution streaming content now available. Before, the average user only accessed the Internet for checking emails, browsing the web and downloading an occasional piece of software. But now, users are logging on to watch HD full length feature films, share massive collections of music or software via peer-to-peer networks or stream online radio all day and all night. In essence, the Internet has become rush hour 24/7.

Internet service providers can help alleviate the congestion by limiting bandwidth (i.e. data transfer speeds) for certain protocols. While the laws are currently unclear regarding whether or not an Internet service provider can purposefully limit speeds for certain sites--such as Netflix, YouTube or Pandora--there is little to stop broadband companies from throttling certain kinds of traffic. For example, normal web pages are transmitted using the HTTP protocol over port 80. Email uses IMAP and POP protocols. Meanwhile, filesharing services like BitTorrent and eMule use different ports and protocols dedicated for P2P sharing. YouTube, Hulu and other on demand video services also use a different protocol for delivering embedded video content. Likewise, video games will transmit data over their own ports and protocols. As such, your Internet service provider can make a very accurate guess as to what kind of content you are downloading and can quickly identify which types of content are hogging up all the bandwidth. To avoid degrading the experience for other users who pay the exact same amount for their service, they choose to slow down service for those using high data protocols and ports.

So, what can you do about it? Not much. It's all controlled by the ISP, beyond the walls of your home. The best you can do is complain about it. But in order to complain about it, you have to prove it. Most companies will deny doing something as controversial and unpopular as throttling, so the burden of proof lies on you.

You can use a tool such as the {{http://broadband.mpi-sws.org/transparency/bttest.php|Glasnost test}} to compare your download speeds for different protocols. If no throttling activities are occuring, your download speeds should be comparable, if not identical, for HTTP apps, P2P apps and on demand video streaming services. If not, it means that the server you are accessing is slow, or that your ISP is throttling those particular types of content.

If throttling ticks you off, make sure you spread the word--both among users and to your ISP. Let them know you're dissatisfied. Then, take some time to call your congressman or congresswoman and let them know that you want them to support net neutrality laws.