The FCC wants to weaken net neutrality protections that kept ISPs like Comcast from throttling your streaming services. In this guide, we’ll show you how to stop Comcast from throttling your internet from start to finish.
What Is Throttling?
An internet service provider throttles service when it deliberately slows the speed of data on its way to your house. There may be times when that is a legitimate thing to do. If internet congestion gets too bad, then an ISP may throttle everyone’s service to keep people from losing access completely. The key here is that everyone gets affected equally.
Throttling becomes bad when ISPs use it to target a specific application like BitTorrent or a specific online service like Netflix. Most Americans have one or two choices when it comes to getting internet access. This monopoly-like lock on consumers gives ISPs enormous power over any company that wants access to its customers.
For example, a company like Comcast could create a two-tier system for video services. A fast lane would let it stream video to Comcast customers at full speed – for a price. Streams from other services would travel at a slower speed. Comcast would make a lot of money, but its customers would suffer as the services they want to use are throttled.
The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality policies have protected us from this kind of racket, but like many other things in Washington, that’s changing.
This guide will show you how a VPN (virtual private network) can help you get around throttling technology. We’ll also look at how the FCC is reversing net neutrality protections, and how worries over throttling are based on Comcast’s own history.
How Does A VPN Stop Throttling?
Companies in the early days of the internet needed ways to connect remote offices and traveling employees to the corporate network. VPN technology let them create a virtual company network over the internet that nobody could crack into from the outside. Eventually, third-party VPN service providers like IPVanish began selling the service to smaller companies and even to individuals.
How VPNs Work
The packets of data that go back and forth from your device as you use the internet are visible to anyone with the right tools. They can look at the internet addresses on each packet to know where you are and what sites you are visiting. ISPs can use these tools to target data streams for throttling.
The first thing the VPN software on your computer does is create a private tunnel through the internet to the VPN provider’s servers. From the outside, it looks like you are using the internet from whatever city that server is located.
The other thing VPN software does is encrypt your data. It uses military-grade techniques to scramble the data so much that nobody snooping can tell whether it’s a Netflix stream or tweets of your cat.
VPNs and Throttling
A VPN won’t help if Comcast is targeting you. If you’ve blown through your monthly bandwidth caps, the terms of your internet service contract may give Comcast the right to throttle everything going in and out of your cable modem – including your VPN connection.
A VPN’s anti-throttling benefits only kick in when Comcast is targeting an online company like Netflix or an app like BitTorrent. Their technology relies on being able to peek into the data you get from the internet. The filters need to know the addresses on your data packets or to see the video data inside. A VPN’s combination of tunneling and encryption prevents anyone from knowing where you’re browsing on the web or what content you are downloading. If Comcast can’t tell the data is from a Netflix video, then it can’t throttle that stream.
We recommend using IPVanish for its combination of features, value, and performance. Its virtual private network system (VPN) is an excellent way to stop Comcast from throttling your internet services.
Invisibility To ISPs
The private network connection between you and IPVanish masks your activity on the web. Tunneling and encryption ensure that everything you exchange with IPVanish is private. By the time your data reaches the public Internet, it is already at IPVanish’s servers and not on Comcast’s network at all.
As far as Comcast can tell, your streaming video data could just as easily be an email, a Facebook status update, or a Wikipedia article. If Comcast decides to throttle Netflix, it would have no idea that you were watching Orange is the New Black.
IPVanish provides some of the fastest connections on the internet. Congestion is one of the biggest challenges VPN providers face. If too many people try to use the same server at the same time, bandwidth issues could slow data streams dramatically.
IPVanish has more than 850 servers in more than sixty countries around the world. That global footprint minimizes congestion and lets IPVanish commit to providing unlimited bandwidth.
IPVanish subscriptions start at $10 per month on a month-to-month plan, but you’re better off picking a quarterly or annual plan. The discounts will save you 25%-46% and reduce your costs to as little as $6.49 per month. Thanks to a seven-day, money-back guarantee there’s no risk in giving IPVanish a shot.
And now may be a good time to try it out. The US Federal Communications Commission has kept Comcast and other ISPs honest, but that is about to change as principles of net neutrality get undermined.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality ensures that everyone – businesses and consumers alike – get treated the same way by the big internet companies. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is overturning many of the protections that kept companies like Comcast in check.
All Data Are Created Equal
Pentagon cash may have funded the original internet, but it was hacker culture that shaped what the internet became. Sharing, freedom of access, and decentralization led to the open source movement and to the concept of net neutrality.
The only way the internet can work is if all data gets treated equally. Under net neutrality, it doesn’t matter whether data comes from one person’s blog or Netflix’s video archive. It doesn’t matter whether that data streams into a TV or a smartphone. All of the data gets treated the same way and travels at the same speed.
Why Is Net Neutrality Important?
The mergers of internet and entertainment companies like Comcast and NBC Universal create a scenario where these mega companies could use their power to squash innovative startups. Where would Netflix or Spotify be if the music and film industry controlled your access to the internet?
Net neutrality protects small companies from the internet industry’s 800-pound gorillas. It protects consumers’ ability to use the internet the way they want. And net neutrality keeps the internet open by preventing the creation of walled gardens that favor the internet service providers.
The FCC Once Protected The Little Guy
The FCC took a tough stance in support of net neutrality during the Obama Administration when it issued the Open Internet Order. Among other things, it would “prevent specific practices we know are harmful to Internet openness – blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.”
Central to the new ruling was something called Title II, laws regulating the telephone industry that the FCC extended to the internet industry. Title II gave the FCC strong enforcement powers using a system that telecom companies have lived with for decades.
New FCC, New Rules
Donald Trump’s election shifted the balance of power on the FCC after he replaced the Obama-appointed FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, with former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai.
Pai delivered a speech on the Future of Internet Freedom in which he said that by using Title II, the FCC had imposed “a set of heavy-handed regulations upon the Internet…. solely because of hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom.” Pai announced that the FCC would propose new rules reversing the use of Title II.
The Internet Association, a trade group representing Facebook and other tech companies, responded that “consumers pay for access to the entire internet free from blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization…. Rolling back these rules… will result in a worse internet for consumers and less innovation online.”
Comcast’s Throttling History
With the FCC reversing its tough support of net neutrality, people are worried that the ISPs’ bad habits will return. Comcast, in particular, has a history that justifies their concerns.
Comcast got caught red-handed in 2007 in what the Associated Press called “the most drastic example yet of data discrimination.” Users of the peer-to-peer file sharing service BitTorrent had been complaining that Comcast was throttling their service. AP reporters tested the claims and found that Comcast used falsified network data to trick the BitTorrent app into dropping its connections.
Two years later, Ars Technica reported that Comcast had settled a $160 million class action lawsuit. By then it had “abandoned its P2P-hatin’ ways”, but not until after FCC investigators began asking questions. (In case you’re wondering, each BitTorrent user harmed by Comcast got $16. The lawyers did much better.)
There’s more than one way to throttle an internet connection. Instead of targeting a specific app, an ISP can target the stream of data coming from popular sites. That’s exactly what happened to Netflix back in 2012.
As its video streaming service took off, Netflix relied on third-party transit providers to connect its data streams to Comcast’s network. Normally, Comcast would add capacity as traffic levels from these transit providers increased, but that stopped after the transit providers signed on with Netflix.
Netflix used this example when it opposed the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable in 2014. “Comcast made clear that Netflix would have to pay Comcast an access fee,” the report said, “In essence, Comcast sought to meter Netflix traffic requested by Comcast’s broadband subscribers.” (The merger failed so Comcast had to settle for buying NBC Universal)
What Comcast Says
Of course, Comcast has a different view of the world. It’s really just a harmless little multibillion dollar company, misunderstood by the public, and unfairly treated by an overreaching government.
Denies Throttling And Supports Open Internet
Brian Roberts, Comcast’s Chairman and CEO, issued a statement praising Pai’s Title II decision and declaring that “We don’t block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content delivered over the Internet.”
A more detailed blog post explains how unfair the Obama Administration was and insists that net neutrality is at the top of Comcast’s priority list.
The post calls Title II an outdated law. It may have made sense in the 1930s when AT&T had a monopoly on all telephone calls in the US, but now the “misguided Title II overhang” gets in the way of innovation.
Slow Speeds Have Many Sources
Comcast also wants you to know that the slow internet you’re experiencing has nothing to do with them. It publishes an article every six months or so explaining the Comcast approach to network management.
On top of that, it explains how a slow internet experience could be caused by any number of different reasons that Comcast can’t control:
- Computer performance – Old computers, old operating systems, apps running in the background, and malware could slow your internet experience. [It’s not us, it’s you]
- Home network issues – Your home Wi-Fi connection could be congested or subject to interference. [Still you. Why not rent our wireless router?]
- Cable modem performance – If your cable modem is old, it may not deliver the service levels you’re paying for. [Yeah, still you. Why not rent our cable modem?]
- Distances and routes data travel – It could take more time for your data to bounce from network to network across the internet. [If it’s not you, and it really isn’t us, then it must be them.]
- Congestion levels – Sites unprepared for surges in traffic will get so congested that they can’t keep up with demand. [Still them. Definitely not us.]
- Gating policies – The sites you visit could have their own challenges, forcing them to limit their own speeds. [Seriously, it’s not us. The internet is complicated. Would you like to upgrade to a Cable and Voice package?]
OK, OK. These are all very real reasons why your internet connection is running slower than it should. So if you’ve kept your home network tech up-to-date, how can you tell whether your connection is being throttled?
How To Check For Throttling
Comcast’s numbers are impressive, but speed test sites will give you objective measurements of your internet speeds. Run all the tests and compare the results to see if anything stands out.
Internet Speed Tests
Netflix created a simple speed test – emphasis on simple- that tells you how fast you can stream its videos.
Speedtest.Net has been measuring people’s internet speeds for more than a decade. Its annual market report summarizes that data and lets you compare your broadband experience to state and city averages.
Internet Congestion Tests
Some testing services look at more than just the raw speed of your downloads. They also look at the various points across the internet where congestion could cause problems.
The Internet Health Test, for example, checks for degradation at the ISP interconnection points.
M-Lab has even more tests that look at different aspects of internet performance. Reports summarize results for most of the United States and many cities around the world.
Stop Comcast From Throttling Your Internet
Comcast’s history of throwing around its power means there’s very real chance that throttling will make a comeback. That’s especially true now that Comcast owns NBC and Universal – it has even more incentives to go after innovative media companies like Netflix. Unless public opposition forces the FCC to change its mind, you must be prepared stop Comcast from throttling your internet. Give IPVanish a try and let us know whether its performance justifies everything its customers say.