TV & Movies 3 min. read

New research shows internet providers are now “throttling” your streaming sites

New research shows internet providers are now “throttling” your streaming sites

When net neutrality regulation was scrapped by the FCC, the verdict from Internet Service Providers was unanimous: “Even without regulation, we promise we won’t throttle your network traffic.”

New research from Dave Choffnes and his team at the University of Massachusets Amherst, however, shows that ISPs are plainly ignoring that promise: “Nearly every U.S. cell provider is (now) doing throttling,” Choffnes says.

“Throttling” is another term for “slowing down.” So if you’re streaming video, for instance, throttling is where your ISP slows down your connection on purpose.

This could be done for legitimate purposes, like during times of heavy network overload. But if one type of network traffic is throttled more than another—like streaming services—that would be known as “differentiation.” And differentiation is thought of as a net neutrality violation—where not all traffic is treated equally.

Some argued that since we didn’t have net neutrality regulation until 2015, and it was torn apart only two years later, little would change now net neutrality is gone. After all, the internet was fine before then, so why would it suddenly fall apart now?

The fact is, though, that it’s having a real, tangible effect. You have likely even experienced it yourself without realizing: “Why is my video streaming so blurry? Maybe it’s a problem with YouTube?” Your ISP may be intentionally slowing down your preferred streaming service during times when there is no evidence of network overload.

This is what Choffnes’s research shows.

It all started with an app he created called Wehe that could track net neutrality violations. Apple actually blocked the app from its App Store, but the ensuing media attention drew enough users for Choffnes to be left with a wealth of data to analyze.

His team performed more than 500,000 data traffic tests across 161 countries, according to Northeastern. The research indicated that ISPs are “giving a fixed amount of bandwidth—typically something in the range of one and a half megabits per second to four megabits per second—to video traffic, but they don’t impose these limits on other network traffic.”

“They’re throttling video traffic even when the network doesn’t need to,” Choffnes says. “It happens 24/7, and in every region where we have tests.”

The report indicates that this is occurring across the board, with almost every ISP. So, when you’re streaming video this evening on Netflix and notice that the connection seems slow, it could well be throttling that, under net neutrality regulation, would have been illegal.

This is clearly the deprioritization of certain sites—something we were promised would not occur.

So what does this mean for the future? Well, it’s imperative that proper regulation gets implemented that can stand the test of time—not keep coming and going with every election cycle. Congressman Ro Khana’s proposed Internet Bill of Rights would be a step in the right direction, as would Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Foundation’s “Contract for the Web.”

It’s about rights and responsibilities. ISPs have the right to make money and manage their business, but they have a responsibility to treat traffic equally and not favor those with the largest wallets. As Choffnes’s research shows, these responsibilities are clearly not being met.

We at AnchorFree are continuing to push for regulation that ensures an open and free internet for all. In fact, we’ve partnered with Fight for the Future to match donations to their net neutrality fundraising endeavors, as well as working closely with the World Wide Web Foundation on its contract. You can continue pushing too by contacting your lawmakers and making your voice heard.

Did you know:

Hotspot Shield is a free app that can help prevent throttling by hiding your internet traffic from your ISP. Using its secure servers to provide a ‘tunnel’ for your data to travel through, your ISP won’t be able to tell what site you’re visiting. And if it doesn’t know you’re on Netflix, for example, it can’t throttle your content. 

Download Hotspot Shield today by clicking the button below.

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