It's Possible to Increase Bitcoin's Block Size Without a Hard Fork: Blockstream Co-Founder

Mark Friedenbach, a bitcoin developer and co-founder of the popular Blockstream company, has recently revealed a scaling approach he called “forward blocks,” which could essentially help increase BTC’s block size without a hard fork.

Currently, bitcoin can accommodate a small number of transactions per second, and is unable to compete with traditional payment networks such as that of Visa. While some believe the cryptocurrency should scale through a block size increase – which would require a hard fork - others argue this approach will lead to centralization, and prefer other solutions.

A hard fork is essentially a change to the network that isn’t backwards-compatible, meaning all of the cryptocurrency’s users need to upgrade to keep up with the change. A soft fork, on the other hand, can be backwards-compatible.

Friedenbach’s approach, according to a transcript of his presentation at the Scaling Bitcoin workshop, would be able to boost the flagship cryptocurrency’s on-chain transaction capacity through a Proof-of-Work (PoW) alternation achieved through soft forks and “privacy-enhancing alternative ledgers (side chains).”

According to Friedenbach, a former space apps developer at NASA, the forward blocks approach could ultimately help increase the cryptocurrency’s “settlement transactions volume to 3584x current levels,” while improving censorship resistance via sharding.

Here, the developer refers to sharding as a change to the PoW system and a series of developments that would see bitcoin’s blockchain scale. Most cryptocurrency users refer to sharding when mentioning Ethereum’s scaling solution, which would see multiple network computers divide transaction workload between them to scale the blockchain. These two, per Friedenbach, are “largely not” the same.

Speaking to CoinDesk, the former NASA employee noted his approach could help with the scaling debate, as the community often opposes hard forks because of how hard it can be to do them safely. He was quoted as saying:

Forward blocks makes that whole argument pointless. We don't need a hard-fork to scale bitcoin, if and when we decide to do so. It can be accomplished as a soft fork, like SegWit was.

SegWit, as CryptoGlobe covered, was launched one year ago and recently saw its usage go over 50%. During his presentation, he further suggested it could be good to replace bitcoin’s current halving mechanism, which halves block rewards every four years. To him, a more linear approach could be more beneficial to the cryptocurrency, as it wouldn’t suddenly affect the ecosystem.

Notably, Friedenbach reportedly got to his forward blocks approach by starting out thinking about a “development of a dual PoW change where you introduce a new PoW with a soft fork.” While he noted this wasn’t a proposal, it’s a “good place” to start thinking about the solution.

 

A Controversial Solution

While some could look at the former NASA contractor’s approach as revolutionary, CoinDesk reports not everyone is excited about it. Pseudonymous bitcoin developer “Shinobimonkey” was quoted as saying it was a “network attack being called an upgrade.”

Blockstream’s CEO Adam Back noted that “it’s OK,” as discovering mechanisms “can be useful and separate from whether it would be practical technically and in terms of user consensus.” To him, it’s so far just another tool.

Per the news outlet, Friedenbach isn’t advocating to use forward blocks on bitcoin either, but is merely trying to put the option out there. He’s reportedly set to test it on “Freicoin,” an altcoin he created.

Israeli Courts: Bitcoin Is a Taxable Financial Asset, Not a Currency

A central district court in Israel has reportedly ruled in favor of the nation’s tax collection department, which has categorized bitcoin (BTC) as a financial asset - but not a medium of exchange (MoE).

According to the court’s ruling, the Israeli tax department may impose and collect taxes on transactions involving bitcoin, the world’s most dominant cryptocurrency. The court’s decision on the matter was announced on Monday (May 20, 2019).

Bitcoin Is a Taxable Financial Asset

As confirmed by Israel’s central district court, bitcoin-related transactions are subject to a capital gains tax as the pseudonymous cryptocurrency is considered a financial asset by the country’s central bank.

Notably, the matter was brought before court Judge Shmuel Bornstein by the founder of a crypto startup that argued bitcoin should be treated as a currency, or medium of exchange. The entrepreneur said that transactions involving the cryptocurrency should not be taxed because it’s a currency, not a financial asset.

Bitcoin's Status Hasn't Yet Been Established

As noted by local news outlet Globes: 

The Central District Court in Lod accepted the tax authority’s interpretation, and held that bitcoin is an asset and not a currency, and that the transaction in question is therefore taxable.

Going on to mention that Israeli financial regulators have not yet established a comprehensive regulatory framework for cryptoassets, Judge Bornstein said that it was “hard to envisage a result whereby Bitcoin would be considered a currency for tax purposes in particular.”

According to Globes, the case involving bitcoin-related transactions could reach Israel’s Supreme Court.

Commenting on the status of Bitcoin, Itay Bracha, Managing Partner at Israel-based law firm Bracha & Co., remarked:

The ruling is a signal to all those who have yet to report cryptocurrency-related [capital gains] or based their actions on differing legal advice.

Building Decentralized Infrastructure for the Transportation Sector

Per the legal specialist, the recent ruling is “unequivocal” and that it is only a “judicial interpretation”, not a “new legalization.” Therefore, the current ruling on the status of bitcoin would only “apply retroactively.”

As noted by local sources, the latest BTC-related case involves Noam Copel, the founder of blockchain startup DAV. As stated on the crypto firm’s official website:

We’re building a decentralized infrastructure to revolutionize the transportation industry on the blockchain.

In 2011, Copel reportedly purchased BTC and sold it in 2013 for a profit of around $2.3 million. Arguing that his profits, or capital gains, were not taxable, the crypto entrepreneur stated (in court):

Bitcoin should be classified as a foreign currency, and that his profits should be seen as exchange rate differences received by an individual not in the course of a business, and therefore should not be taxed.

As explained, the Israeli courts ruled in favor of the nation’s central financial institution by categorizing Bitcoin as a financial asset - which is subject to taxes.