Slow Wi-Fi?  Maybe that's the problem

Slow Wi-Fi? Maybe that’s the problem

This story is part Tips for the houseCNET’s collection of handy tips for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Is your internet suddenly moving very slowly? This may be due to a outdated router or one less than ideal router location. Your connection problems may only require a simple solution, such as upgrade to a mesh network or simply restart your modem and router. But if you’ve tried many tried and true methods and your internet speeds are still below average, the problem could be something your internet service provider done intentionally: bandwidth throttling.

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Yes, you read that right. Your ISP may be intentionally slowing down your Wi-Fi. 2019 Supreme Court decision in which the court refused to hear an appeal on net neutrality, ISPs can still legally choke your internet, limit your broadband if you stream more TV than they want and offer slower connections to websites owned by their competitors.

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A solution to slow Wi-Fi (if caused by internet throttling) is a virtual private network
. Basically, ISPs need to see your IP address to slow down your internet connection, and a good vpn will protect that identity – although it does come with some limitations and drawbacks, which I’ll discuss below. We’ll walk you through how to determine if throttling is to blame, and if not, what to do to fix your crummy Wi-Fi. (You can also read more about how to get free wifi anywhere in the world.)

Read more: Best Internet Providers of 2022

Step 1

First, Troubleshoot Your Slow Internet Connection

So your Wi-Fi is slow and you think your service provider is throttling your connection. Before jumping to these conclusions, it’s important to run through the usual troubleshooting list: check that your router is located in the center of your home, reposition its antennas, double-check your network security, etc. If you want to learn more about ways to optimize your Wi-Fi, check out our suggestions.

If you’ve gone through the laundry list and your Wi-Fi is still running slow, continue to the next step.

Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

2nd step

Test your internet speed


Step 3

Find a Reliable VPN

Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

Step 4

Compare your speed with the VPN

Then test your internet speed somewhere like or Compare the results with the same test when your VPN is active. Using any VPN should significantly reduce your speed, so speed tests should show a gap, with active VPN speed significantly slower than idle VPN speed. But a VPN also hides the IP address that providers use to identify you, so if your speed test with the VPN is faster that without the VPN it could mean that your ISP is targeting your IP address for throttling.

Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

OK, that’s the hardest part. Even if you find out that your provider is throttling your Internet connection, there might not be much you can do. Many people in the United States live in areas with ISP monopolies or duopolies, so you may not be able to find a better provider. But here are some helpful answers:

  • If you do have options, use the best provider in your area. Measurement Lab provides a good resource for finding information specific to your region, and it can guide you to a more reliable ISP.
  • Use your VPN to maintain more consistent speeds. A VPN can’t fix a bad connection or other reasons for your slow service, but it can alleviate throttling from unscrupulous ISPs.
  • Call your provider and threaten to switch providers if they keep throttling your internet connection. It may sound old fashioned and I can’t guarantee lasting results, but vendors have responded positively to such tactics when I have used them.

Learn more about the best VPNs to use when working from homethe the fastest VPNs and VPN you can try for free before buying. And here are the best broadband ISPs and the best wifi repeater for almost everyone.

Corrigendum, 10 February 2020: This article previously incorrectly attributed the 2019 net neutrality decision to the Supreme Court, rather than the DC Circuit Court which decided the case. The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.

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