What Does Net Neutrality Have To Do With Bitcoin?


On Feb 6, 2019, it was announced that Google had begun complying with the Russian government to remove sites from search results that are banned within the country.

This is one example of where a national government and multinational corporation have banded together to violate net neutrality. Such policies could be used to limit or prevent access to Bitcoin (BTC), other cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets, and blockchain technology in general.

If a national government decided to ban all sites that are associated with Bitcoin, other cryptocurrencies or cryptoassets, decentralized web browsers, or decentralized applications (dApps), then access to blockchain technologies would be hindered because of violations of net neutrality.

There are other ways in which violations of net neutrality might impact blockchain technology. Internet speed could be throttled by internet service providers (ISP) for users attempting to access blockchain-based services. At the same time, some cryptoassets may be made accessible while others are forbidden. Censorship could occur in small or large ways to impede accurate information about blockchain technology, Bitcoin, or other related tools.

Violations of net neutrality may directly impact the mass adoption and social integration of cryptocurrency and cryptoassets. Click To Tweet

freedom of information net neutrality

Net Neutrality and the Open Internet

Net neutrality is based on the philosophy that all internet users should be treated equally. There should be no discrimination based on the identity of the user or the websites, content, platforms, or applications accessed by them. All forms of internet-based equipment, services, and methods of communication should be equally accessible to all.

The open internet is built on the foundations of net neutrality. With an open internet, there all users have the same freedom to use the internet without restriction. Such freedom depends on all users having equal access to the internet. There is no equality if freedom is limited, impeded, or forbidden in any way.

net neutrality

The Threat of Throttling

One way to violate net neutrality is through bandwidth throttling. This occurs when an internet service provider (ISP) slows down internet services for a user or group of users. Throttling may seem innocuous, but it has threatened lives, infrastructure, and natural habitats.

For example, during the summer of 2018, Verizon throttled internet access for the Santa Clara fire department when they were actively fighting forest fires. This impeded the ability of firefighters to communicate with each other, which meant they were less able to do their job of saving lives, protecting natural habitats, and preventing damage to human infrastructure. The fire department eventually had to pay more money to gain necessary bandwidth speed, despite having already paid for a supposedly unlimited plan.

Verizon claims that the throttling was based on an error and had nothing to do with net neutrality. However, the throttling of internet speed for anyone always involves net neutrality given that throttling creates inequality in internet access. To slow access to the internet is to violate net neutrality. Texas has introduced a bill that would outlaw ISPs like Verizon from throttling bandwidth speed of emergency responders during a disaster.

bandwidth throttling

The Threat to Bitcoin

Theoretically, Bitcoin and other supposedly-decentralized cryptocurrencies are able to be used by anyone without the mediation of third-parties. Updated blockchain data is readily available using the internet to access it. Equal access to block data and the freedom to use the currency as one wishes fall in line with the basic principles of net neutrality. In both cases, equality and freedom are of central importance.

Freedom to use Bitcoin and even access to the blockchain data can be restricted by violations of net neutrality. Sites, wallets, and other locations where the BTC blockchain is hosted could be prohibited by national governments. Companies like Google and Verizon could be penalized for allowing users access to them. As well, users who have historically used the internet to even read about Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies may have their bandwidth throttled or even have their internet access totally revoked.

Banning of blockchain based services, throttling of internet speed for those who use them, and censorship of related information are all manners in which violations of net neutrality could directly impact the usage and accessibility of Internet-based cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets. As long as governments and ISPs are able to determine who is able to access the internet, the speed of user access, and limit or revoke access to certain websites or services, cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets are at risk.

It seems that only a decentralized internet outside the purview, control, regulation, or monitoring of ISPs and governments could prevent this. If like the blockchain, the internet was decentralized among its users instead of controlled by multinational corporations and government agencies, then net neutrality might be safe. However, as long as there are centralized servers and authorities deciding how the internet should be regulated, net neutrality and usage of BTC will always be threatened.

How do you think users of cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets should protect themselves against violation of net neutrality? Is a decentralized internet truly our only salvation? Let us know your thoughts on the subject in the comments below! 


Images courtesy of Shutterstock.





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