Now that the whole hoopla with the end-of-calendar-year holidaze are behind us we can refocus on some of the issue we faced towards the end of 2017 with re-energized spirit. In particular, I wanted to take a closer look at the affects of net neutrality on the world of cryptocurrency. Many Americans opposed the repealing of net neutrality rules that were set in place during the Obama presidency. Putting the whole argument aside (tl;dr - I don't agree with the FCC and think they acted like 100% transparent corporate shills except for the 2 that stood up for citizens), how does this affect the future of Bitcoin and a whole market of upstart altcoins? Can Bitcoin really be stopped by the likes of ISP's who no longer have to abide by net neutrality rules?
How Crypto Can Be Affected
Whether or not ISP's will flex their muscles and start blocking sites or charging for a premium connection is not a debate. They will. Don't think so? Here is a great article that lists out every time it has happened since ISP's have had the technological ability to do so before net neutrality regulations were put in place. Will they do it again? Of course they will as soon as it gives them some sort of advantage to do so. Let the heat die down a bit so the frog forgets it's in the pot of boiling water and when the time is right and they think it's just an extended hot springs vacation you crank the heat right back up to high.
So how does this affect Bitcoin? Potentially you could have ISP's play favorites and block or throttle exchanges or sites that don't want to play ball and pony up extra cash for inclusion. Lets say Coinbase decides to pay the most for access to be placed in the maximum number of packages. This leaves other exchanges at a disadvantage and ISP's can use this tactic to route customers to their preferred customers. Bitcoin & cryptocurrency thrive on Peer-to-Peer (p2p) transactions and this service may be seen as an "add-on" that you have to pay extra for access to. We know that torrent sites were already blocked in the past so p2p transactions are at least on the radar for ISP's.
There are a number of concerns that you can face when it comes to the lack of protections for a free and unbiased connection to the internet. Despite these things, can ISP's ultimately decide Bitcoins fate by controlling mainstream access?
I say no.
How Bitcoin Prevails
We have established that yes, ISP's have in fact throttled or blocked traffic to products or sites they didn't like in the past and there is a high likelihood they will do it again now that the FCC has repealed net neutrality regulations. This may put the Bitcoin as we know it today in jeopardy, but the thing about Bitcoin is it's ability to adapt. Bitcoin was created at a time of great financial upheaval and has upgraded many times since it's inception to handle a dynamic and changing market. Yes, it has been a bit slow about getting there lately, but I think that is also coming soon. Bitcoin represents a community of people who have similar ideals about transfer of value and those ideas are manifested in cryptocurrency projects like wildfire. Bitcoin is the mathematical representation of the masses distaste with how transfer of value has been monopolized by a small minority for hundreds and thousands of years. This ideal has always been a part of human society, but now Bitcoin has given it legs to stand on and it sure won't go down without some major punches.
Decentralized Human Society
One way that Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies (and anything that might be threatened by an aggressive ISP) can overcome blocks and throttling is by utilizing a "mesh network". Every internet router has the ability to communicate with other routers and you can effectively create a "mesh" out of multiple routers and create a large WiFi zone you could give access to anyone in range with. Of course at least one of the routers must be connected to the internet and the folks over at NYC Mesh have found a way to make that happen without an ISP as well. They use their custom supernode rigs to get wireless access from an "internet exchange" which supplies connections to ISP's. Here is a great Motherboard article on the whole thing. There was also a group out of Finland that was successfully broadcasting the Bitcoin blockchain through radio waves. You can read more on that here. The proof of concept here is that going with a decentralized network of wireless internet nodes may be a way to combat this in the near future.
Getting Around Blocks With Current Tech
Besides creating an entirely independent network we still have some current tricks that may help get around a potential block or throttle by ISP's in the future. The use of a VPN or operation on TOR is also an option to possibly circumvent and ISP from blocking sites or throttling (see my recent review of Torguard VPN doing this). Of course this is like a workaround and who knows how long it will be effective if ISP's step up their game.
Supercharged Blockchain Solutions
While VPN's and TOR have been around a while, there are also some blockchain based solutions, like OpenLibernet, that may give us the best of both worlds when it comes to private internet usage. "OpenLibernet is built around a robust payment system inspired by the Bitcoin protocol that rewards its users for actively joining, expanding and maintaining the network, and creates a traffic economy with perpetually decreasing prices." You can see where something like this could be very useful in creating the decentralized networks we would need in the future to become fully independent of ISP's controlling internet access.
You also have projects like Mysterium Network that aim to create a blockchain based VPN marketplace that will create "an Open source software, powering a Decentralized Network of VPN Nodes." As you can see there are already some decentralized efforts on the blockchain that are trying to deal with these potential issues.
While we may not have net neutrality any longer, we still have the spirit of Bitcoin, and that can't be throttled or blocked. The more you try to control the more people will want to find a way around. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are helping us with the transfer of value, now we need to do our part.