A founding, and until recently universally (at least in least theory), upheld principle of the internet is that of net neutrality, the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally, no matter its source or content.
It is often suspected however, that ISPs discriminate against P2P traffic, both because it uses up a lot of bandwidth (although a much lower percentage of internet traffic is now P2P traffic compared to few years ago), and because of its suspected illegality (BitTorrent traffic is of course not illegal per se, but is it widely used to download copyright pirated material).
Thanks to new data collected by Measurement Lab, it is now possible to see how much throttling is performed not only in your country, but by your ISP.
The map is interactive, so if you click on a county you will get a detailed breakdown of its ISPs, and how much they throttle BitTorrent traffic.
As you can see on the chart below, the amount of throttling performed varies considerably from country to country, with the United States (14 percent), Canada (17 percent) and Australia (18 percent) performing much better than the UK (28 percent).
South Korea (74 percent) is the worst country for throttling P2P traffic (ignoring places such as Afghanistan (80 percent)), followed by Malaysia (61 percent) and Singapore (53 percent).
Worst and Best ISPs
There are far too many countries to go into detail for each one here, so we will look at the just the main English speaking ones, and encourage you to visit the M-Lab website yourself to find out how ISPs in your country fare.
The worst offender for shaping P2P traffic in Australia is iiNet (21 percent), while Dodo (11 percent) is the best.
Throttling in Canada has improved this year after years of very heavily throttling, with Rogers shaping only 20 percent if P2P traffic. This might not sound great, but until two years ago its rate was 80 percent. In a similar shift, Bell has dropped from 77 percent in 2012 to just 8 percent in 2013, leaving Eastlink the worst choice for BitTorrent users at 31 percent.
Almost twice as bad in general as the other countries here, the UK is not great when it comes to limiting BitTorrent bandwidth. The good news is that BT is down from a very high 60 percent in 2012 to 35 percent, putting it just behind Orange (38 percent) as the worse provider. TalkTalk scores quite well at just 10 percent, followed by BskyB (17 percent) and Virgin (20 percent).
In the US the 2008 high profile case of Comcast illegally interfering with P2P traffic means there is much less shaping of BitTorrent traffic now, and Comcast itself, who once throttled 50 percent of P2P traffic, is down to just 3 percent.
Compared with many other countries, the fact that Cox fares worst at 13 percent is very impressive, although Version with just 6 percent wins.
Using a VPN to avoid traffic shaping
A VPN encrypts and hides all your internet data, so your ISP cannot see that you are downloading using BitTorrent. Using a VPN will therefore foil efforts to identify and throttle P2P traffic, although it does not hide how much data is downloaded, so it is possible that you could get throttled based on high volume usage.
It is also theoretically possible for an ISP to throttle traffic identified as VPN traffic, although the rules of net neutrality have so far prevented this happening (that we are aware of). Things might change following the recent court ruling striking down net neutrality, but even if they do, there are ways circumvent VPN throttling.