Bypassing the Unthinkable: Net Neutrality and Traffic Throttling
Net neutrality has been a hot topic lately, and quite frankly, it’s a big deal. The Internet has always been free and open and everyone has equal access to services that we need on a daily basis. In fact, the one reason the Internet has grown so quickly over the past few decades is due to net neutrality.
Because everyone has equal access to resources, entrepreneurs and businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to grow and flourish. Not only is net neutrality good for businesses, but consumers benefit as well. Whether a web surfer needs to do research, make online payments, stream video, or interact with businesses, they pay the same fee to their ISP.
Competition among service providers spurs advancements in technology as well. Internet connections have long been commodified, and as such, service providers compete fiercely to offer the best service at the lowest rate. It is seen like a public utility, just like water and electricity. To outperform the competition, service providers have several options at their disposal such as:
- Lower their rates (which may not be feasible)
- Provide a higher quality service (higher uptime and fewer disconnects)
- Increase the speed of their networks
In the end, all three of these options will benefit the end user, the economy, and the advancement of technology.
The Possibility of a Dark Future
Sadly enough, bills have been presented to Congress that would no longer impede an ISP from offering a tiered (price discrimination) pricing system for their service – should they be passed. There has been a lot of fighting, arguing, and lobbying over the past few years. As of June 12, 2015, rules made by the Federal Government went into effect to bar service providers from throttling or blocking their users Internet connection. However, it is likely that the fight is not over yet.
But what would the Internet look like if net neutrality bites the dust? It’s not a pleasant thought, to say the least. Service providers would be able to offer a tiered service plan based on the type of traffic you want to download. Economists frequently refer to this practice as price discrimination. Service providers want to do this because it means one thing: more money in their pockets. However, they lose sight of the fact it will stymie future economic growth and advancements in technology.
Basically, an ISP would be allowed to throttle the speed of your Internet connection if you don’t pay them more money. In addition, they could charge more for different types of traffic such as voice, video, file downloads (FTP), or any select type of traffic they think they can make the most money from.
Bypassing ISP Throttling using a VPN
If worse comes to worse and net neutrality becomes a thing of the past, a VPN tunnel will become even more valuable. You see, when your traffic is encrypted inside a VPN tunnel, your ISP isn’t able to tell what kind of traffic you are sending or receiving. For all they know it could be a voice call, a video from Netflix, or a Google search. This would help to circumvent any data restrictions or pricing models.
At this time, ISPs are still known to throttle various categories of traffic ranging from video streaming services to torrents. P2P file transfers are usually the most affected by speed throttling, but as ludicrous as it sounds, Verizon has repeatedly been accused of slowing down consumer speeds when they used Netflix. By connecting through an encrypted VPN server, your ISP no longer has visibility on your traffic, negating their ability to selectively slow down or cut your bandwidth.
However, understand that the ISP ultimately has complete control over their network. Though they can’t see what kind of traffic you are downloading once a VPN tunnel has been established, they certainly have the ability to see that VPN tunnel traffic is flowing over their network. If they wanted to, they could make it their policy to discard all VPN tunnel traffic, but don’t hold your breath.
Failing to allow the most popular security protocols over their network could mean that they lose a boatload of customers. VPNs are simply part of the Internet infrastructure, any businesses and single users rely on them daily to send secure transmissions. In the end, it really isn’t feasible.
For the present, it looks like the net is going to stay neutral. However, lobbyist never cease fighting, and it could be that net neutrality rules will change in the coming years. With or without net neutrality, however, a VPN is an invaluable tool to keep you safe online.
Pros and Cons
It would be misleading to omit the fact that a VPN connection can and will more often than not, slow your bandwidth speeds to varying degrees. The Virtual Private Network acts as a private tunnel to encapsulate, encrypt and transfer your data across the web, and this inevitably affects your latency and speed. It’s often a negligible loss, as little as five to ten percent of your total bandwidth, but the variation depends on how far your selected server’s country is from your location.
Since ISP throttling often causes subscribers to lose the majority of their bandwidth when using targeted services, the speed loss and added latency incurred from the VPN is more than welcomed as a better alternative, and still effective solution to the problem. Just keep in mind that longer distance between you and your server will most certainly cause greater speed loss.
But as you may know, accessing worldwide servers allows you to unblock geographically restricted content, streaming US Netflix becomes possible from any country by connecting to US servers. Always try to pick the closest possible servers by selecting between west or east coast locations, choosing the shortest route for yourself. All this while having peace of mind that a large portion of your web activity is now encrypted and better secured as well.
Since speed is always a thought when it comes to using VPNs, we’ve rounded up a selection of the fastest VPNs out there.