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How to bypass ISP throttling by using a VPN service

From our point of view, we want our internet speeds to be as fast and as consistent as possible, however, internet service providers often restrict their customer's speeds, which is commonly referred to as ISP throttling. One of the reasons ISPs do this is to save costs or because some ISPs simply cannot service hundreds of thousands with the high speeds promised.

We explain in further detail what ISP throttling is and why it happens in our what is ISP throttling guide, check it out. If you just want to avoid the issues caused by ISP throttling, a VPN is the solution.

How will a VPN can help bypass ISP throttling

Using a VPN service connects your computer (including mobile devices) to a VPN provider’s servers using an encrypted tunnel. Because all data passing through this tunnel is protected by strong encryption, your ISP cannot know what users are doing on the internet, and therefore cannot prioritize or discriminate against specific services.

Just to demonstrate how effective this can be, in July Colin Nederkoorn, CEO of Customer.io, performed a series of tests in which using VPN improved his connection speeds when streaming Netflix over his Verizon connection tenfold!

Using a VPN therefore prevents bandwidth throttling of internet services, and will likely become a vital tool in the struggle to preserve net neutrality. However…

It is possible for ISPs to throttle / block VPN itself

Although all data passing through an encrypted VPN tunnel is hidden from an ISP, it can ‘see’ the tunnel itself, and can therefore choose to throttle or block all such traffic. Alternatively, it can simply throttle or block all traffic connected to known IP addresses belonging to VPN providers.

Throttling or blocking VPN traffic is very problematic, as businesses rely on VPN to secure internal communications, process payments, and for any number of routine purposes that are vital for them to operate, so banning VPN protocols would have a very negative impact on the economy.

This is a problem compounded by the fact that running OpenVPN (or SSTP) over TCP port 443 makes VPN traffic indistinguishable from the HTTPS traffic (https://), which uses the protocol on which almost all internet security relies.

VPN traffic is therefore only blocked in extremely restrictive countries such as China or Iran, but there is some evidence US companies may be throttling it. Fortunately, this can be easily bypassed by switching to tcp port 443, tampering with this would effectively break the internet.

For more information about using a VPN in a country with strong internet censorship, check out our best VPN for China and best VPN for Iran pages.

Many providers’ custom VPN clients let you easily switch ports. To do this in the generic open source OpenVPN client, you can edit the relevant .ovpn config file in a text editor, and manually change the settings.

 

ovpn change port

If you have problems, then your VPN provider should be able and happy to provide assistance.

Many VPN providers also offer ‘stealth’ servers, which use obfspoxy like technologies to mask the use of VPN traffic.

A bigger danger is that ISPs might throttle the internet for users connected to the known IP ranges of VPN providers. As a user, there is not much you can do about this apart from choose to use less well-known VPN providers, but the providers themselves can recycle their IP addresses, setup new proxy servers, and perform various other tricks to help combat this threat.

Throttling outside the United States

The recent collapse of net neutrality in the US, and in particular the closing of the FCC’s public consultation period (which was extended from July 15th to September 15th in order to handle the huge volume of comments it received), has focused world attention on the issue of throttling in America, and has made it an urgent priority for American netizens.

The rest of the world, however, is watching events in the US very closely, and ISPs everywhere are hoping it will set a precedent allowing them to charge differently for different levels of internet access and bandwidth.

The EU and Brazil have passed legislation aimed at guaranteeing net neutrality, but even here, the fact that a huge proportion of all internet traffic passes through the US (even when the US is neither its start point nor its destination) means that what happen in the States is likely to affect users elsewhere.

In all cases, as long as it is not itself throttled, VPN will help (and discussed above, even when it is throttled, options are available).

A note on BitTorrent throttling

Many ISPs, even in countries which uphold net neutrality, discriminate against BitTorrent traffic on the assumption that all such traffic involves illegal copyright infringement. To see whether your BitTorrent traffic is being throttled, check out this fantastic tool by Measurement Lab, which lets you see how much throttling of BitTorrent traffic is performed not only by country, but by ISP.

 

neutralnet2

If you want to know more about using a VPN to torrent safely, take a look at our best VPNs for torrenting article.

The catch

Because VPN involves data travelling through an extra leg of the journey as it routes through the VPN servers, and because encrypting and decrypting data takes processing power, using VPN always comes with a speed hit, which can be as low as 10 percent, but can be much more.

The benefit of using VPN to evade throttling therefore depends on the speed hit resulting from using a VPN, put against the amount of throttling that is occurring. As demonstrated fairly spectacularly by Mr Nederkoorn and his 10 x faster Netflix speeds when using VPN however (as mentioned earlier), the benefits can still be considerable.

Written by: Douglas Crawford

Has worked for almost six years as senior staff writer and resident tech and VPN industry expert at ProPrivacy.com. Widely quoted on issues relating cybersecurity and digital privacy in the UK national press (The Independent & Daily Mail Online) and international technology publications such as Ars Technica.

23 Comments

Waleed
on June 11, 2020
Reply
Hi I'm from Jammu and kashmir india, we are experiencing a regional bandwidth throttling on all of our data. we only get speed upto 340 kbps while we pay for 4g. I've tried many VPNs but still nothing. Can i bypass this, if yes how?
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Ray Walsh replied to Waleed
on July 9, 2020
Reply
A VPN can only help if the ISP is only throttling people when they perform certain activities or access specific sites. If the ISP is throttling everybody, all of the time; the VPN will not help. All you can do is try the VPN, and if it fails then it is not going to work.
harrycj2010
on January 30, 2017
Reply
Hello i am a cricket user pre paid with sim i am by no means computer savey now when i got my phone i told the salesman i needed the hot spot to download automotive manuals he said my hot spot should last until i had to reup on time well bull half way through month my internet so slow my grandmother could out run it is that throttling ? and any way to fix this thank you anyone and everyone
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Douglas Crawford replied to harrycj2010
on January 30, 2017
Reply
Hi harrycj2010, If you internet connection is being throttled, then using a VPN can help. I would be a little surprised, however, if this is what is happening to you. You mobile internet speed is most likely limited by how good your connection is. What is mobile coverage like in your area?
Roger
on January 18, 2017
Reply
I live in the philippines.. is there some trick to bypass tge fair use policy.or data cap? . my isp give me 800 to 1gb per day..help me to find solution to bypass data capping ty.
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Roger
on January 25, 2017
Reply
Hi Roger, I'm afraid that your ISP will always know how much data you use.
Saquib Khan
on September 17, 2016
Reply
I am from India..Can you please tell me the best free VPN software with unlimited bandwidth or any other simple trick so that I can get unlimited access to internet. I am a student and live in hostel.All students are in trouble.Several VPNs have already been blocked by the University's IT Department like Psiphon,Zero VPN,Tiger VPN. I would be very very thankful to you if you can please help. Also there is a Tenda router in our room. So if you can please tell any trick or any VPN.
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Saquib Khan
on September 19, 2016
Reply
H Saquib, I'm afraid that using a VPN can bypass throttling (because it hides the contents of your traffic), but it cannot overcome bandwidth restrictions. Your ISP is supplying the bandwidth, after all. For unrestricted access to the internet, you can try using some of the tricks outlined in 5 ProPrivacys for China to evade blocks on VPNs (AirVPNs ability to route VPN connections through SSL and SSH tunnels, for example, can be very effective).
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