The possibility of the internet completely shutting off is highly unlikely. However, in this article we will discuss the possible repercussions Bitcoin may face if the Internet in some parts of the world was shut down and barred off completely, what would happen to blockchain and cryptocurrency in general?
Is it possible to shut down the Internet?
Depending on what jurisdiction you are in, your government may have the right to temporarily pull a kill switch on the Internet. The main purpose of internet kill switches is to either prevent some sort of cyber attack, or when the government feels there is a national threat looming. What might surprise you is that there have been over 50 incidences of Internet censorship in 2016 alone. Ethiopia, Uganda, and Egypt are just some of the few countries that have had their telecommunication avenues interrupted.
In 2006 the US government approved SOP 303 (Standard Operating Procedure). This document presents a protocol for the shutting down and restoration process of commercial and private wireless networks during a time of national crisis. Meaning that it could be possible for the government to shut down Internet access for American citizens. It is a recurring theme where governments use the excuse of a “national crisis” in order to violate human rights. In conclusion, while it may be impossible for governments to collude and coordinate a global shutdown of the internet, certain regions can experience intermittent blackouts which can temporarily alienate the affected area from the rest of the world.
What will happen to Bitcoin?
While Bitcoin is one of the most resilient pieces of software around, it requires the availability of the internet in order to operate. In the unlikely case of a complete Internet shutdown Bitcoin will go down with it, however not all will be lost. While the blockchain will seemingly come to a halt, miners will still be able to mine the cryptocurrency. Let us assume that everybody keeps mining as usual even though connection is lost, mining farms would move onto LAN networks and continue the search for blocks. Since miners won’t be able to pool their resources together in order to mine as a team, they would mine solo. However, Bitcoin’s difficulty is not going to change instantly, and due to the inability to pool resources it would take much longer than 10 minutes to find a block.
Looking at Bitcoin’s hash rate distribution, AntPool and F2Pool both own roughly 16% of the global hash power, these are the two biggest players in the bitcoin mining world. As a result, these two entities are most likely to find blocks before any other mining pool. Since the internet would be offline there would be no way of communicating with other pools, as a result each operation would mine on its own chain, effectively forking the blockchain. Each miner would continue to append blocks to the chain as fast as possible until the internet comes back on, at that moment it will yutn into a race between AntPool and F2Pool.
When wireless connectivity resumes, due to the Bitcoin hard fork, the consensus protocol that is part of Bitcoin will take effect. It will look at both chains and see that they have the same merkle hash (origin), as a result the blockchain would converge to the longer of the two chains. Unfortunately the transactions on the old chain would be lost, but miners would still be able to re-verify those transactions on the new blockchain. It would definitely take a team effort between the different mining pools but Bitcoin would return to normal.
What to expect as a Bitcoin user?
As a Bitcoin user, you wouldn’t be able to move your bitcoins unless you had communications with the miners. Even if you did sign a transaction you would have to find a way to broadcast it to them. If the internet was shutoff for a few days or weeks, miners could potentially develop a radio frequency communication channel, or even take transactions by mail. You could mail your signed transaction to the miner, with the address of the recipient, then the miner would verify the transaction and send a confirmation mail to you and the receiver. As inefficient as that sounds, it would still be a way to transact Bitcoins without the use of the Internet.
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