Now that US net neutrality protection’s a thing of the past, there’s nothing to stop AT&T from throttling your internet connection. A virtual private network (VPN) service, however, can stop throttling in its tracks. Read on to find out how you can stop AT&T internet throttling in 3 minutes.

Our Pick: IPVanish

Why IPVanish wants your business
Source: IPVanish

We recommend using IPVanish to stop AT&T from throttling your internet services. In three minutes you can enjoy the combination of features, performance and value that come with an IPVanish subscription.

Related: IPVanish Review: How to Install and use IPVanish VPN

Invisibility

Once you connect to an IPVanish server, all AT&T knows is that you are connected to that server. IPVanish’s tunneling protocols prevent AT&T from knowing where you’re surfing.

The encryption technology also prevents AT&T from knowing what kind of data is flowing to your device. Whether you’re watching an ESPN live stream or listening to Spotify or reading text from a website, the data will look the same to AT&T.

Are you one of the millions of cord-cutters who have replaced their cable subscription with a live TV streaming service like Sling TV? AT&T owns a competing service called DirecTV Now. If AT&T decides to throttle Sling TV to give its own DirecTV Now service an unfair advantage, your IPVanish connection will keep AT&T from knowing that you use Sling TV at all.

Performance

IPVanish global servers
Source: IPVanish

Small VPN companies run their customers connections through a limited number of servers. When demand surges on a given server, the resulting congestion will slow VPN data streams dramatically.

IPVanish has more than a thousand servers in over sixty countries, a distinct advantage over many of its competitors. The network administrators at IPVanish can manage traffic more efficiently and ensure that customers get the best experience possible.

More importantly, IPVanish does not cap data usage for any of its customers. You can run all of your internet sessions through IPVanish without getting hit with overage penalties.

Value

IPVanish service plans
Source: IPVanish

IPVanish offers a month-to-month plan that costs $12 per month. You also get a seven-day, money-back guarantee. That combination provides you with a no-risk way to try IPVanish.

Once you decide that you want to use IPVanish to prevent AT&T from throttling your internet service, however, you’ll want to get the steep discounts that come with longer-term commitments.

You can cut your costs by 35% to 46% by paying for a longer subscription up front. You can choose to be billed $27 every three months or $78 every year.

Other IPVanish benefits

A VPN service like IPVanish offers other benefits beyond bypassing AT&T’s throttles.

Device support

IPVanish has apps for the most popular computer and mobile operating systems. Windows, macOS, Chromebook and Ubuntu Linux all have native apps. The same is true for Windows Phone, iOS and Android smartphones.

But how do you keep AT&T from throttling Netflix when you stream through a Roku?

IPVanish provides instructions for configuring your wireless router to support VPN. Once you set everything up, your router sends all of your home internet traffic through the IPVanish servers, protecting everything on your home network.

Security

The wireless access points at coffee shops and airports do not have a great reputation for security. When you share access to the internet with dozens or thousands of other people, there’s no guarantee that someone in the crowd isn’t trying to snoop on your activity.

IPVanish hides your web browsing while you’re on the road. Nobody will be able to see the passwords you enter or get access to your email.

Geo-fencing

Video streaming services like Hulu and YouTube TV decide what content you get based on your location. Travel around the US and YouTube TV will prevent you from streaming your local TV stations. Travel outside the country and Hulu won’t let you access the content you’ve paid for.

Countries like China have internet censorship systems take even more aggressive measure to control what their citizens can see on the internet. The so-called Great Firewall of China blocks access to Facebook, YouTube and other online information sources.

Thanks to thousands of globally-distributed servers IPVanish’s customers can bypass these geo-fencing techniques and restore your access to online services and information.

What are VPNs?

Back in the 1990s, companies began to connect their networks to the internet to improve communications between offices and to let employees in the field access IT services.

However, they needed a way to make those connections secure. VPN technology let them create a virtual network over the internet that people on the outside couldn’t monitor.

Eventually, third-party VPN service providers like IPVanish began selling the service to small companies and to individual users.

How Do VPNs Work?

VPN tunneling and encryption
Source: IPVanish

VPNs use two techniques, tunneling and encryption, to make your use of the internet all but invisible to anyone else, including your internet service provider.

Tunneling

Normally, ISP’s like AT&T can read the internet addresses on the data leaving from and arriving at your device. They can use those addresses to identify internet traffic they want to throttle.

IPVanish and other VPN services create what’s called a tunnel between your device and their servers. The tunnel takes all of the data leaving your device and addresses them to IPVanish’s server. Even though your connection to the internet starts on AT&T’s network, your internet use seems to stop at IPVanish’s servers.

You might be watching an HBO movie, for example, but AT&T can’t see that. The stream from HBO goes to the IPVanish server where the data gets repackaged and sent down the tunnel to your device. All AT&T sees is a steady stream of data between IPVanish and you.

Encryption

The second aspect of a VPN is encryption. Military-grade techniques scramble the data passing between your device and the VPN servers. That prevents AT&T and other ISPs from using techniques like deep packet inspection to figure out whether you’re downloading a webpage or streaming a video.

What Can’t A VPN Help With?

D-Link AX11000
Source: D-Link

A VPN only helps in cases when AT&T internet throttling is aimed at another company. All of AT&T’s subscribers experience the same slowdown — unless they use a VPN. There are other situations, however, when VPNs won’t help.

Bandwidth caps

If AT&T decides to throttle your use of the internet, a VPN won’t be much help. Your connection to a VPN passes through AT&T’s system. AT&T may not know what your streaming, or from where, when you use a VPN, but the company knows how much data it’s sending to your device.

Let’s say, for example, that you’ve passed your monthly data caps. The terms of your contract with AT&T allows the company to slow the data flowing in and out of your device.

You only get the anti-throttling benefits when AT&T is targeting an online company like CBS All Access or an app like Facetime. By hiding your activity, a VPN keeps AT&T from knowing that the data you’re using is coming from a throttled website.

Other sources of slow internet

There are many perfectly innocent reasons why your internet service may be slow. AT&T has a page on its help site dedicated to explaining why things are slowing the internet.

Most of it focuses on all of the things you do that could cause the problem. And it’s all true. The current generation of WiFi wasn’t designed to handle the number of wireless devices in modern homes. It also wasn’t designed to handle multiple ultra high-definition video streams.

Other things like your favorite website’s ability to handle internet traffic, or internet congestion in general, can slow down your connection to the net without it being AT&T’s fault.

Other ways to speed your home internet

To make sure AT&T can’t blame you for your slow internet experience, make sure that you’ve addressed all of the issues under your control.

Run all of the updates on your wireless router and any devices it connects to.

Try repositioning your wireless router. You may have it in a place that worked when you got the router. But new furniture or other changes since then could have blocked the signal.

If your wireless router is more than a few years old, buy a new one with the latest WiFi protocols.

See if congestion is an issue by turning off as many connected devices as you can.

AT&T’s History Controlling Your Internet

DirecTV Now Review
Source: DirecTV Now

The thing is, AT&T and the other big communications companies have a history of controlling our internet connections for their gain.

Apple Facetime blocking

Back in 2012, Apple updated its Facetime video chat app to support wireless data connections. The app had previously been Wi-Fi only.

Wired reported at the time that AT&T refused to let Facetime work over its mobile network unless subscribers switched to “generally more expensive” tiered data plans.

AT&T’s Sponsored Content

AT&T now favors its own video services over third-party services. The Verge reported that AT&T texted a message to its wireless customers saying “Now your plan includes sponsored data. This means, for example, that customers who have DirecTV or U-verse(R) TV can now stream movies and shows with the TV app without it counting against their plan data.”

Netflix, Sling TV and other online video companies don’t get the same benefits. They can pay for it, though. AT&T’s Sponsored Data program lets online services pay for the “extra data” their customers pull across the AT&T network.

Wireless throttling

The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against AT&T in 2014 for its practice of throttling its unlimited data customers’ bandwidth. Between 2011 and 2014, the FTC said, AT&T internet throttling had slowed the mobile data access of more than 3.5 million customers and deceptively withheld the fact.

This past February, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling in AT&T’s favor. The case will move forward with a hearing before the full court later this year.

While people may hope the FTC could be a way to block internet companies from throttling, this lawsuit probably won’t start a trend. FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny told Ars Technica recently that “We are a very hard-working agency, but we’re not a very big agency…. We’re not the FCC in that regard.”

Check Your Internet Speeds

All the speeds
Source: SpeedTest

So now that the FCC has turned a blind eye to the internet companies, how do you find out if you’re being throttled by AT&T?

Internet Speed Tests

You can use online tools to measure how fast data flows to and from your home network. The search engines from Microsoft and Google will also report your bandwidth speeds. Just type the words “speed test” into the search box on Google or Bing. The test appears above the search results. Just hit “start” to get your results.

Netflix offers an even simpler Fast.com speed test. It’s only really meant to help subscribers find out how fast they can stream video.

One of the longest-running services is speedtest.net. For more than a decade, speedtest has provided quick reports on people’s internet speeds. You can use the company’s annual report on the US internet to see how your internet experience compares to city and state averages.

Internet Congestion Tests

The trouble with those speed tests is that speed is all they report. The speed tests won’t tell you why the internet is working so slow. You can get more information from online services that report on internet congestion levels.

The Internet Health Test will check for congestion at the interconnection points between your internet service provider and the rest of the Internet. When Comcast throttled Netflix several years ago, it did this by limiting the number of interconnection points it assigned to Netflix.

You can get even more detailed information by using M-Lab’s tests and comparing the results to cities in the United States and around the world.

Stop AT&T Throttling in its Tracks

Combine an IPVanish subscription with regular internet speed tests and easy home network maintenance and you’ll have everything you need to avoid AT&T internet throttling on your account. It’ll take less than three minutes to get started — just subscribe to IPVanish and download the app.

Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.