How to tell if your ISP is blocking a site

3 min
site blocked by isp message on a screen

Your experience with online browsing is not always smooth and problem-free. One of the many issues you might have heard of is website blocking by ISP. Is that possible? If so, is it even legal? Read on to learn all the details.

Can ISP block websites?

First things first. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) grants you access to the Web. This makes an ISP responsible for maintaining your connectivity, both in hardware and software aspects. It means the company runs the servers, replaces damaged cables, updates routers and other devices. In return, it simply expects you to pay the bills. As a result, it has direct access to your Internet transfer.

Literally everything you send, receive, browse, view, post, share or stream online goes through the hands of the ISP. Internet Service Providers actually store enormous amounts of data about us (like our browsing habits, social media activity, games played, etc). Such data can be easily traced back to a specific person since every client signs a corresponding agreement with the ISP that entitles the provider with the right to collect, store and analyze such kind of information. Most often this data is legally protected, so ISP cannot just sell it to advertisers. However, it still can intercept or alter it at its sole discretion. Correspondingly, blocking certain websites is also quite simple for ISPs – IP addresses and domain names are simply gathered and added to a blacklist. And then all incoming requests from your web browser are filtered through such a list, and queries containing a blocked record are just canceled.

Internet provider blocking websites – is it legal?

The short answer would be: yes, most probably. ISPs are officially registered companies and cannot afford lawsuits on a whim. In many cases, it is about parental protection. Parents often rely on solutions provided by network administrators instead of keeping harmful content away from children by themselves. Other examples include censorship of racism, gambling sites, promoting drug abuse and violence. However, some harmless websites can still get blocked by mistake. 

How to check if ISP is blocking a website?

This task is a little more difficult than it appears. No straightforward message like ‘website blocked by network operator’ appears on your screen when you are trying to access a blocked website. Instead, you would often see a generic error, for example ‘server not found’. But be careful before you throw accusations around. Is your ISP really blocking a website or is the website unavailable because of some other technical error? A page might be down for a number of technical reasons: server not working, maintenance pending, software error, or too many connections. 

To verify whether it is your ISP that is blocking a site, first just google a phrase like ‘is it down for everyone or just me’. There are many free online services that check website availability status for people from various parts of the world. If the page is not down, it is time to dig in a little deeper. 

The optimal solution is VPN (Virtual Private Network). It works as a virtual tunnel, reaching from your device to the VPN provider outside the jurisdiction of your ISP. All the transfer is hidden underneath. It is mainly used for altering your apparent geolocation. VPNs like Tuxler VPN also often support encryption. This way your online experience gets fully protected from outside interference, interception, and, most importantly, from blocking. If you can access the demanded pages with VPN on, then probably your ISP is to blame. Even then it might not be its fault, though. In many countries, there is some amount of official and legal censorship. Sometimes this means restricting freedom of speech, like in China, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. See World Press Freedom Index for more information.

How to remove ISP blocking

The tool that can help you access online content that is blocked by ISP is a VPN service. As mentioned above, ISPs can filter out IP addresses and domain names. There are also more advanced methods: URL filtering and deep packet inspection. The point is to search for specific keywords in the website address or in its contents. Encrypted VPN effectively circumvents all of those methods, because all of your online traffic gets hidden in a safe, virtual tunnel. 

VPN prevents blocking content not only by ISPs but also by the website managers based on geolocation. This is a primary feature of VPN: altering your apparent IP address so that you cannot be easily tracked to your physical location. This way both your privacy and security are significantly improved.

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