Whether they tell you they are doing it or not, many Internet service providers (ISPs) are throttling your connection. That means they are arbitrarily limiting the speed of your connection (the bandwidth). While some ISPs will do this only after a certain amount of activity on your connection or when resources are limited at peak usage periods, others do it for less noble reasons. To find out if your ISP is throttling your internet connection, try one of the following tools.
Google’s Measurement Lab
Measurement Lab, or M-Lab, is an open platform designed by Google to help users evaluate their internet connections. It comes with a number of different tests and is set up to be easy to use for novices and experienced users alike. Find M-Lab by navigating to www.measurementlab.net.
Once inside M-Lab, find the navigation item labeled “Test your Internet connection” and click on it. This will then take you to a screen with several tools. While all of the tools are useful, you will be most interested in the Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) and Glasnost tools.
NDT will tell you how fast your upload and download speeds are. It will also try to assess if there are any configuration problems with your network. It is useful for determining if you are getting the bandwidth your ISP advertises (the bandwidth that you are paying for).
Glasnost attempts to determine if your ISP is throttling your connection, blocking specific applications, or has blocked certain types of traffic. Of particular interest to bit torrent users is the fact that Glasnost can determine if your ISP is blocking peer-to-peer applications, such as the bittorrent client offered by www.Vuze.com.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
If you are looking for another way to test your Internet connection, then try the Switzerland Network Testing Tool offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). This tool can be found at www.eff.org under the Our Work > Transparency > Other menu stack. It will give you access to test servers, which use torrent files to determine if your ISP is throttling peer-to-peer applications. What makes this tool particularly useful is the fact that it can distinguish between throttling when uploading bit torrents and throttling when downloading bit torrents.
If the tools above don’t work for you, simply type “bandwidth throttling” into a search engine to find other tools that have similar function. Whatever tool you end up using, remember that some ISP contracts allow for “traffic shaping.” This is a type of throttling that allows for a faster download/upload rate during the beginning of a file transfer, but a slower rate after a certain amount of data has been exchanged. Your contract may refer to such activity as a “burst.” Traffic shaping is different from throttling in that it is a part of your contract and not a violation of terms. It is an attempt by your ISP to provide enhanced service at a lower cost.
If you do find that your ISP is throttling your service, there are ways to get involved. You can call the ISP and ask that they stop, though that may have no effect. Alternatively, you can join with the EFF, Google, and other organizations, in their fight to promote “net neutrality,” by posting the fact that your ISP throttles its customers.
Liz Garret is a computer professor of many years. In her spare time, she likes to help others by posting what she has learned online.