Unless delay efforts are successful, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on December 14 to repeal net neutrality rules put in place during Barack Obama’s presidential administration.
These rules classify broadband as a utility, thereby preventing internet service providers (ISPs) from modifying the services they offer based on content. For example, they can’t throttle speeds for certain sites or charge extra fees for access to others. All internet traffic must be treated equally.
This repeal could be costly for both internet users and content providers. Users may see their monthly bills increase while their internet speeds decrease. Meanwhile, sites such as Netflix, which rely on fast streaming, could be relegated to slow lanes unless users pay fees for faster service.
Some are concerned that the burgeoning cryptocurrency market could take a hit as well if the FCC votes to repeal net neutrality.
A board member for digital advocacy group Fight for the Future named Marvin Ammori told Motherboard that the exchanges used to trade cryptocurrencies could be easily blocked, and an ISP like Comcast could choose to support just a single exchange in an area, slowing down access to others or even charging users more to access those sites.
Similarly, new exchanges that incorporate better security features may never get a chance to compete in markets where a preferred exchange is already established, according to a report from The Next Web, titled “The Death of Net Neutrality Could Be the End of Bitcoin.”
Amanda Gutterman, chief marketing officer at ConsenSys, a blockchain production studio that builds decentralized applications on Ethereum, however, is fairly confident that cryptocurrencies will last long after December 14, whichever way the vote goes. “I do not see the repeal of net neutrality as necessarily changing the face of cryptocurrency,” she told Futurism.
If the FCC does decide to repeal net neutrality, ISPs will have the opportunity to manipulate two distinct aspects of the cryptocurrency market: peer-to-peer transactions and activity on exchanges. According to Gutterman, they don’t really have any incentive to do either — at least not to such an extreme that users would be dissuaded from using cryptocurrencies.
When a person chooses to send cryptocurrency to another person, they do so peer-to-peer — that lack of third-party involvement is one of the benefits of using crypto as opposed to a bank. As Gutterman explained, this traffic would be indistinguishable from any other encrypted, peer-to-peer traffic on the internet. To an ISP, a user downloading a song via a service such as BitTorrent would look the same as a user sending someone bitcoin.
To crack down on one kind of peer-to-peer traffic, ISPs would have to crack down on all peer-to-peer traffic. While Gutterman said that wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, it still wouldn’t make trading crypto impossible. While ISP’s could decide to charge users a certain price for peer-to-peer traffic, they couldn’t stop users outright from engaging in peer-to-peer transactions.
As for exchanges, the cryptocurrency market as a whole simply isn’t big enough to warrant much attention from ISPs, which base most of their business models on traffic, said Gutterman. ISPs will likely be more focused on Google’s 28 billion visits monthly or YouTube’s 20.5 billion than the relatively paltry 20.4 million visits to Coinbase each month.
Eventually, ISPs could actually follow the lead of other companies and start integrating cryptocurrencies into their business models, allowing users to pay for traffic with crypto or building in a crypto layer to control how internet traffic gets routed, Gutterman told Futurism.
While a vote to repeal net neutrality could, and likely would, disrupt the internet, cryptocurrencies appear capable of weathering the storm.
Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.