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You might not think to blame your internet provider when you’re staring at a buffering wheel. After all, a lot could be going wrong — like an outdated router or a less-than-ideal router location. You might be able to solve slow speeds with an easy fix, like upgrading to a mesh network (which also has to be set up in the right spot) or simply restarting your modem and router.
But suppose you’ve already attempted these tried-and-true methods, and your internet speeds are still subpar. In that case, the issue might be something your internet service provider is intentionally doing: bandwidth throttling.
You read that right. Your ISP could be making your Wi-Fi slower on purpose. Because of a 2019 Supreme Court decision in which the court declined to hear an appeal on net neutrality, ISPs can still legally stifle your internet in the US. This means they can limit your broadband if you stream more TV than they want, or they can serve slower connections to websites owned by their competitors. The Federal Communications Commission recently announced efforts to restore net neutrality rules that ban throttling, but the practice is still legal for now.
One solution to slow Wi-Fi (if it’s caused by internet throttling) is a virtual private network. Basically, ISPs need to see your IP address to slow down your internet, and a good VPN will shield that identity — though this comes with some limitations and downsides, which we’ll discuss below. We’ll walk you through how to tell if throttling is to blame and, if so, what to do about fixing your crummy Wi-Fi.