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Communications of the ACM


Net Neutrality: Unexpected Solution to Blockchain Scaling

blocks with prongs, illustration

Credit: Victoria Strukovskaya / Struvictoria.Art

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There is a growing expectation, or at least a hope, that blockchains possess a disruptive potential in numerous domains because of their decentralized nature (that is, no single entity controls their operations). Decentralization comes with a price, however: blockchains do not scale—they are incapable of processing a large, or even moderate, number of transactions in a timely manner. For example, bitcoin processes three transactions per second.

The root of the problem—and the limiting factor for blockchains—is a trustless peer-to-peer network model, in which information must be suboptimally propagated to—and validated at—every hop in the network. Undoubtedly, cloud-delivery networks (for example, Akamai or YouTube), which resolved similar performance challenges in other domains (for example, Web and video delivery), could help scale blockchains as well. The problem is that such large centralized infrastructures disturb the decentralized nature of blockchains, hence eliminating their disruptive potential. The question is, can cloud-delivery networks be used to scale blockchains without upsetting their decentralized nature? The answer is positive, and the key to the solution lies in an advanced version of an existing concept: net neutrality.


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