ISP's an their sneaky ways of limiting your internet to a crawl

With more and more restiction hitting internet users I though I write a bit about the methods used to make our life harder than necessary.

First example: Heavy gamer...
Some people love their Xbox or PC for only one reason, online gaming.
Too bad when all of a sudden your ping rates go sky high or the chat has a lag making good conversations during the game impossible.

Second example: Streaming media...
People like to watch what they want and when they want.
Online streaming is a good way to get the latest trailers, catch up with your favourite shows or just to kill some time.
Too bad when you notice the connection takes forever and that you can only watch in low quality without running into buffer problems.

Last but not least P2P....
Although used for mainly illegal stuff, P2P is still not dead.
A lot of software and even collections of documents are shared by the use of various P2P networks.
Torrents are the most common ones but it really does not matter once your ISP has hit you hard.

So what have all these in common when we speak about ISP troubles you might wonder?
Well, firstly they cause a lot of traffic and secondly a large number of connections at the same time.

Why would my ISP limit me?
1. You are using your internet for illegal downloads.
Although in many cases the ISP won't be able to tell what you are downloading, but they can clearly see the volume of the downloads and that a P2P system is used.
Does not take a genius to realise several GB a week on a constant base can't be all legal.
2. Cheap ISP
A lot of our providers rent their bandwidth from another provider.
This way they can provide cheaper prices but have to make sure not go over the allowance as it would could dearly.
A good way of preventing this is to limit speed during so called peak hours - basically whenever a lot of people are online.
3. Your area....
Let's say you are living in a densly populated area.
There you often have a single exchange for all internet and phone users.
Although the numbers of possible users can be increased by adding more hardware, the bottleneck is the feed to this exchange.
As they are owned by a single provider and every other ISP has to pay for the use it becomes clear that this provider will have the best speeds and traffic allowances for the people connected.
In return the other ISP(s) will be reduced in speed and sometimes even the type of connection possible, for example blocking all P2P traffic completely.

How do I find out what is happening to me?
This is indeed a hard one!
No ISP will tell you "Yes, we limited you to xxxx and these services are not working on your connection: ...."
Their fineprint states you have internet and Email, depending where you are maybe online TV services.
But this is only true for standard ports and protocols used!
So for your favorite online game it might be possible to download the latest update in the GB range within minutes but still encounter a massive lag during the play sessions.
Similar story for low speeds.
It is common practise to prioritise traffic to local speed testing servers.
This means no matter what "problem" you might have all test will give positive results.
So you might be able to get high speeds in your tests but watching a Youtube video can mean to first buffer the entire video before you can watch it.
You ISP won't support any requests as long as common speed tests work fine for you.
A sure way of testing is to download a Linux distribution from a remote server.
How long does it take to download?
Now do the same using a P2P download of the same distribution.
Did it take much longer or did you have problems connecting to peers?
If so you are limited by your ISP.
Be aware that this might be true for only one type of P2P network, while others are uneffected.
For games check your Ping times against ping times done manual against a known server, for example Google.
If they are close all is good, if the game ping is much higher (often in the thausands compared to around 300ms max) you are sucked into limitations.

Ok, I am fairly sure I am limited by my ISP, is there anything I can do?
If you mainly use the internet for illegal downloads you might want to consider going the legal way.
For all others, check below.
Main reasons for limits put on your account or connection are congestion (nothing you can do about except trying the ISP that owns your phone network and to pay more - and of course the amount of connections you make.
Let me give you an example:
Downloading a huge file from a server usually needs a single connection on port80.
Doing the same using P2P services requires a lot of simultanious connections to many servers/PC's around the world.
Only with enough, fast connections your download will progress at good speeds.
You ISP can see the number of connections and cut them at a limit or completely disable the protocol used for the download.
The result is crawling speeds for the download and you only see a few peers available.
Multiplayer games often use several ports for the traffic, game status, chat, graphic updates like location of other players and so on.
So if you play in a world with 8 of your friends and fight against 200 online players all these infos has to get to your system.
Having a few kids all enjoying different online sessions at the same time certainly does not help either. ;)
Unless you are permanently limited there are a few options to make things better:
1. Limit yourself to the off-peak times for big downloads.
2. Try to avoid multiple game sessions and downloads from a single internet connection, e.g: let the kids play with one console at a time.
3. Change the ports used by your program, sometimes the standard ports are used by everyone else around, changing them gives the ISP the option to spread the load.
4. Last and best option: Limit the amount of allowed connections.
For games this is not always possible but for other services it is.
Imagine your P2P program using 300 download sources at the same time.
Every one has the actual data and a lot of other informations to transmit while your system has to send the receiving info to every single one.
On top of all that you have the informations needed to find new peers, coordinate the parts and so on.
You can limit those in the settings of the program.
So instead of allowing 500 or more connections at the same time go down to 100 or less.
Instead of allowing 100 half open connections (used to negotiate the download for a new peer) go down to 20.
And of course limiting your own upload and the connections used for it does help a lot.

Myths and alternatives....
You might have heard the things like "protocol obfuscation", "port hoppers" and similar exist, same for the "Tor" network and maybe even the "usenet".
The myth behind all of them is the claim that oyur ISP won't actually see what you do and what your download.
On top of that you have so called "VPN' services.
Although some of the services will help you to overcome certain limits it does not change the fact that you ISP still can see your up- download volume and the number of connections in use.
And trust me, they are not dumb either, so they will know anyway that you mostly use the internet for illegal downloads.
After all, what reasons could you have to use encrypted services or to direct your traffic over VPN networks?
Of course being in China or similar countries is a different story due to gouvernment restictions on the internet.
As long as you do direct download with only a hand full of connections you should be fine, for everything else it comes down to luck.
Protocol obfuscation worked for a few months until ISP's fixed it.
The usenet might be an alternative but not for everyone.
Even the famous Tor network or dedicated VPN services won't help you once your ISP got you flagged.
The will simply limit everything besides standard protocols and ports, so you can use you Email and surf the net, even download directly for a server but everything else might be crippled.
As I said earlier there is no way for the user to truely check what limits he has or what ports and protocols might be affected - you ISP won't tell you either.
Before you get trapped into a new contract because your ISP is no good turn off all P2P and gaming for a day or two.
Try again at night times after a reset of your modem/router.
Quite often you will see it works just fine for a while.
If so you can limit yourself, use off-peak times and so on.
Sometimes it also helps to simply limit the download speed itself.
Of course the best alternative is not to use illegal downloads and to seek local content for game servers or online video.


i've never been limited..i'm lucky ;)