Do Businesses Have Any Recourse for ISP Bandwidth Throttling?

Explore what ISP bandwidth throttling means for businesses, its impact, and the recourse options available to combat it for optimal network connectivity

isp bandwidth throttling
Dennis Thankachan

Apr 26, 2024


It doesn’t matter what your service-level agreement (SLA) with your internet service provider (ISP) says, if you can’t enjoy the speed you signed up for there’s a bumpy road ahead. Bandwidth throttling, or the deliberate reduction of internet connection speed, is a common issue. This tactic is employed to help reduce ISP network congestion, or as a punitive measure to enforce data usage limits or limit specific traffic types. Typically, you see caps on your upload and download speeds below those of the “typical use” outlined in your contract. 

Why do ISPs throttle their bandwidth? The most common scenario is optimizing their network performance during peak periods on shared internet lines. It also ensures fair access to all users on a shared line. Plus, let’s be honest – it gives a great incentive for businesses and super-users to upgrade to higher-tier plans, faster speeds, and dedicated internet access.

Whatever the reason, it can be a major headache for internet-dependent businesses. In this blog article, the Lightyear team unpacks everything you need to know about bandwidth throttling, and presents troubleshooting alternatives.

Identifying Bandwidth Throttling in Your Business

How do you know if your business is being bandwidth throttled? Look out for the following.

  • Internet speeds are consistently slower than your ISP’s promised speed, particularly if it is specific to certain times of day or peak periods.

  • Inconsistent internet performance and delayed load times.

  • Difficulty accessing specific services, as throttling is sometimes applied to specific sites and service types (file-sharing apps, streaming services).

  • Unusual patterns detected by network monitoring tools (bandwidth drops, latency spikes).

If you suspect you are being throttled, there are steps you can take to confirm the issue. 

  • Run speed tests at specific times through the day to compare with expectations.

  • Temporarily use a VPN to see if performance differences are noted, as VPNs can sometimes bypass throttling due to their encryption.

  • Use network monitoring tools to analyze your network traffic and look for throttling patterns, like consistent slowdowns at specific times or with specific traffic types. 

There is also the option of using external testing services or tools specifically aimed at diagnosing bandwidth throttling.

The Impact of Bandwidth Throttling on Businesses

In the US alone, businesses lose about $7.4 billion every year, due to slow internet. Poor internet speed has a massive and well-researched impact on productivity and limits the ability to work remotely and affects economic potential, a growing concern for developing nations.

Slower internet speeds hinder access to cloud-based applications, large file transfers, and video conferencing, and can severely degrade services like VoIP. If customer-facing services are impacted, customer churn rises, and satisfaction decreases. High-speed internet is a modern necessity, and a lack thereof hinders innovation and growth, not to mention competitiveness.

It’s bad enough if you can only access slow internet connections. Having one thrust on you, despite your SLAs and ISP’s promises, is frustrating and can have a serious business impact. 

The Legal Landscape of Bandwidth Throttling

Given these severe economic repercussions, you might be wondering if bandwidth throttling is even legal. It varies considerably by country and jurisdiction. However, in areas with robust net neutrality laws, ISPs are often prohibited from “discriminatory practices,” including throttling internet traffic by type. Regulatory bodies with ISP oversight often investigate and penalize violations of these net neutrality principles. The push to widen these laws further is strong.

However, as with all legal matters, enforcement and interpretation differ, leading to practical inconsistencies. The lack of global consensus on the matter doesn’t help. Fortunately, legal frameworks are constantly evolving, so we hope to see new regulations in the near future.

Options for Recourse Against Bandwidth Throttling

Luckily, there are options if you are facing throttling, from contacting regulatory agencies and ISPs, to using technology solutions to limit its impact. We outline a few below.

Communicating with Your ISP

Start with your SLA, if you have one. Bandwidth throttling is often allowed in the fine print of your contract, which can make it tougher to negotiate. You’ll want to review the underlying Master Service Agreement (MSA) that ties to the carrier contract you signed, and see what it may or may not say about bandwidth guarantees or potential throttling. Carefully gather evidence of the slowdowns, such as your speed test results and network logs to see if performance consistently misaligned with your MSA. 

Once evidence is gathered and you’re familiar with your contract, reach out to your ISP support team to see if they’ll rectify the issue. If lower-level support doesn’t help, request an escalation. Stay professional and polite and clearly articulate the impact on your business. Gain clarity on their throttling policies and see if they have alternative plans or solutions.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate for better terms, guaranteed minimum speeds, or a discount for periods you are throttled. Emphasize how important reliable internet is to your business, and the need for an ISP that is aligned to your goals. If you have a lot of circuits and do a good amount of ISP business, you can denote that issue resolution will ensure more future business for the ISP, which will certainly help.

Legal Action and Regulatory Complaints

If you cannot reach a solution with your ISP, you may want to lodge a complaint with oversight regulators. These will vary by area but look for regulatory agencies overseeing telecommunications and net neutrality. They should have clear guidelines online for submitting complaints. You already have your supporting documents and other evidence.

If your ISP is in breach of contract or violating local net-neutrality laws, legal action may be appropriate. This will typically lead to an investigation, and fines for the ISP. It may even generate court rulings mandating changes to your ISP’s practices to ensure fair internet access.

Switching ISPs or Service Plans

If all else fails, you may need a new ISP, or to upgrade your service plan. A solution like a dedicated internet line may serve your business better. If you can’t afford a DIA circuit at the bandwidth you’d like, perhaps a burstable circuit solves the problem.

Be sure to evaluate new providers for reliability, speed consistency, and transparent throttling policies, seeking a clear assurance of fair and non-discriminatory treatment of internet traffic. Don’t forget to use customer reviews, and carefully study uptime guarantees and SLAs. Additionally, assess their network infrastructure and coverage in your area to ensure consistent performance.

Technological Solutions and Workarounds

There are also solutions and workarounds you can employ to reduce the effects of bandwidth throttling on your business.

Using VPNs to Circumvent Throttling

VPN connections can sometimes bypass throttling, as the traffic generated is encrypted. This is particularly effective where certain types of data are being throttled. Using trusted, reliable VPNs is legal in most countries. However, some ISPs actively block VPN traffic, so you will need to trial this solution to see how effective it is.

Network Optimization Strategies

You should also ensure your network setup is as optimized as possible. Bandwidth management tools can help allocate resources efficiently, allowing you to prioritize critical applications. Your router settings should also be performance-optimized, with updated firmware and Quality of Service settings that prioritize mission-critical traffic.

Beyond this, solutions like wide-area networking optimization and even data colocation services (particularly useful for the cloud) can be used to minimize latency and improve data speeds on distributed networks. 

Developing a Proactive Approach to Bandwidth Management

Lastly, developing a proactive approach to your bandwidth management is essential. Use network monitoring tools to identify your business trends and better plan for future growth. Periodically audit your usage patterns to ensure resources are being used well. 

With a clear idea of your real business bandwidth needs, you can implement bandwidth management techniques such as traffic shaping and prioritization to ensure your mission-critical needs are met first. Think ahead by investing in agile, scalable infrastructure so future growth doesn’t lead to throttling issues. 

If you need help thinking through ISP options, dedicated vs. broadband lines, and / or the nuances in ISP MSAs, the Lightyear platform and team are always on hand to assist, so feel free to reach out to us to chat or for a product demo!

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