The United States Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote Thursday to repeal rules designed to protect net neutrality—a decision that could have dire consequences for the booming cryptocurrency market and its underlying technology.
Cryptocurrencies—Bitcoin in particular—have enjoyed skyrocketing prices over the course of the last year and has seen the majority of its rise in value and availability take place under the Obama-era Open Internet Order. With it gone, the currencies may face new scrutiny from internet service providers (ISPs).
Under the Open Internet Order, which was passed by the FCC in 2015, the commission has been given regulatory levers to ensure that ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T can’t violate the principles of net neutrality. The bright line rules that define net neutrality include no blocking of any legal content, no slowing or throttling internet connection speeds and no paid prioritization that offers preferential service to those who pay for it.
Without those rules in place, ISPs may have the ability to target content or services where they see a significant amount of user activity—and cryptocurrency exchanges have become a hotbed of action as more and more people try to get in on the booming market.
Justin Tabb—the CEO and co-founder of the decentralized, open-sourced internet startup Substratum Network—told International Business Times the repeal of net neutrality protections could complicate all parts of the cryptocurrency ecosystem.
“The elimination of net neutrality protections could pose a threat to Bitcoin miners and traders in the form of throttling or even blocking access to Bitcoin and cryptocurrency sites, including exchanges,” he said.
Tabb noted that how it will all play out is still “strictly hypothetical at this point,” but there is the looming possibility that ISPs will take interest in cryptocurrency and use monopoly-like control in different markets to place their finger on the scale of how the currencies are controlled and operate.
“ISPs could potentially have the power to control access to exchanges, the speed of transactions, and even create and prioritize accessibility to their own cryptocurrencies,” he warned, “which is not such a crazy idea when you think of all the places in this country where a single ISP has a monopoly.”
It would not be out of the realm of possibility for internet service providers to take interest in how digital currency is managed and used. In 2011, Verizon blocked customers on its network from downloading and using Google Wallet, an application that allowed people to wirelessly make payments with their mobile device.
Verizon’s decision to block the app was driven largely by the fact that it had invested in its own version of a mobile payments app. Verizon, alone with AT&T and T-Mobile, launched a wireless payments app called Isis and viewed the high-profile launch of Google’s product as a direct threat to its own service.
While the mobile carrier did eventually decide to reinstate the service and all three of the mobile internet providers later embraced Google Wallet, the incident should serve as a warning for cryptocurrency traders.
Telecoms have already expressed some interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain, the technology that powers them. A Deloitte survey from late 2016 found that more than one-quarter of telecom executives said they would invest at least $5 million or more in blockchain technology within the calendar year.
AT&T has taken particular interest in Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies as a whole, patenting anumber of technologies that would utilize the digital tokens in unique ways, and Seeking Alpha reported earlier this year that the telecom giant has explored a number of ways to embrace cryptocurrencies.
That interest runs the risk into turning into control. A carrier invested in a certain exchange could prioritize that exchange over another, blocking or throttling access to a market that competes with the company’s preferred option or favoring markets that trade the company’s own coin were it to create one.
Tabb said that because just a handful of ISPs control the majority of internet traffic, “They can prioritize, block or even charge more for faster access… Ending net neutrality protections puts too much power in the hands of ISPs.”
Samantha Radocchia, the co-founder and chief marketing officer at supply chain solutions firm Chronicled, told IBT there were a number of scenarios that could play out with the repeal of net neutrality protections that could hurt cryptocurrency markets.
“Exchanges used to trade cryptocurrencies could be easily blocked or limited. ISPs could choose to support just a single exchange and block, limit, or slow down access to other sites,” she said. “Consumers most likely wouldn’t be aware of the alternative possibilities out there.”
That concern was echoed earlier this year by Marvin Ammori, a lawyer on the board of digital advocacy group Fight for the Future. In an interview with Motherboard, Ammori said, “The average person goes to Coinbase to buy Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Litecoin—the average on-ramp is an exchange, and those are easy to block… If Comcast is the monopoly provider in an area, the provider could decide there’s a preferred Bitcoin exchange.”
While the repeal of net neutrality opens cryptocurrency markets up to meddling, Tabb is far more confident that blockchain technology will continue to develop and grow regardless of ISP control over the internet. “Whether net neutrality protections end or not, the blockchain will only increase in use,” Tabb said. “This is part of its beauty.”
Blockchain is the underlying technology that powers much of the cryptocurrency market, including mining for digital tokens and approving transactions completed across exchanges. It is, in essence, a single, giant ledger that keeps track of every action.
Instead of using a centralized server or computer to register the information, the blockchain distributes that responsibility across a network of machines that lend their computing power to record and verify each transaction.
Nick Spanos, the founder of the Bitcoin Center NYC , told IBT the repeal of net neutrality protections “would not add a major effect on blockchain technology,” and even suggested that the FCC’s decision to undo the Open Internet Order would be embraced by the blockchain community.
“Net neutrality is a clever word play, but it’s really internet control,” he said. “Everybody, including people interested in blockchain solutions, can benefit from a less cluttered, faster internet.”
Spanos also expressed no concern regarding potential effects on cryptocurrency markets. “Cryptocurrency mining is so small, for example, compared to even watching a YouTube video,” he argued, suggesting that ISPs would have more interest in services that consume large amounts of data.
Radocchia noted there was some concern that cryptocurrency markets could “take a hit” without net neutrality protections, but said she was “largely optimistic about the staying power of the underlying technology.”
She said it was worth looking past the financial applications of blockchain, for which they have primarily been associated with.
“If we look beyond the financial applications of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and understand the larger value propositions of the infrastructure and ecosystem capabilities, it is clear that blockchain is here to stay,” Radocchia explained, noting that the technology has been adapted by a number of industries and will likely be unaffected by net neutrality.
Article originally posted by ibtimes.