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Blockchain Bites: Ethereum’s Fees, Bitcoin’s Pullback, Ren’s Great Week

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BlockFi has raised a Series A, B and C within a 12-month span, an ICO’s investors can’t find the people they’re trying to sue and stablecoin demand may become unbalanced by traders ditching a “market-neutral strategy.” 

You’re reading Blockchain Bites, the daily roundup of the most pivotal stories in blockchain and crypto news, and why they’re significant. You can subscribe to this and all of CoinDesk’s newsletters here. 

Top shelf

Semper BlockFi?
Crypto lender BlockFi closed a $50 million Series C led by Morgan Creek Digital and with participation from Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures – the lead investor in BlockFi’s A and B rounds – Castle Island Ventures, Winklevoss Capital as well as NBA player Matthew Dellavedova and two unnamed university endowments, among others. BlockFi has now raised $100 million in the past 12 months, has accrued $1.5 billion in crypto assets on its lending platform, and sees about $10 million in monthly revenue. So why the raise? CEO Zac Prince said BlockFi is still trying to add personnel and keep equity capital stable in order to quickly expand geographically, CoinDesk’s Nathan DiCamillo said. 

Error 404: promoters not found
Investors in a $12 million ICO want their money back, but the celebrity couple behind the project has disappeared, CoinDesk’s Leigh Cuen reports. A district court ruled investors in the marijuana project Paragon can pursue a class action. The project appears to have been helmed by Jessica VerSteeg, a former Iowa beauty queen and reality star, and her husband, Russian entrepreneur Egor Lavrov. Rapper “The Game” is also listed as a defendant, among several technologists. It’s unclear if any of the project’s stated plans to revolutionize the marijuana industry would have materialized had it not been for legal action from the SEC in 2018.

DeFi headlines
Algorand has unveiled smart contract capabilities aimed at luring DeFi projects away from its larger competitors. New “stateful smart contracts” store certain information in user accounts, rather than its own code, increasing efficiency and reducing fees. ALGO tokens have jumped 20% on the news. Binance users can now stake dai and kava tokens as the exchange’s DeFi-centered platform goes live.

Election experiments 
Russian communications giant Rostelecom has published details of its blockchain-based voting system that will be deployed in two local regions. The system will be based on a private enterprise version of the Waves blockchain, with nodes located only by Rostelecom servers. “All information from the enterprise voting chain will be published on a special portal that can be accessed by anybody,” CEO Sasha Ivanov said. A previous pilot saw personal information of voters on the blockchain system end up on darknet markets. Authorities deny the allegations. Russia’s Department of Information Technologies will host a separate voting pilot during the by-elections this fall.

Harried: Cash & carry
Institutional demand for stablecoins may cool because yield on “carry trades” has been cut in half since Monday. Carry trading, a market-neutral strategy, involves buying an asset at spot prices and simultaneously selling a futures contract against it when the futures contract is trading at a premium to the spot price. The decline in the carry strategy yield – pushed by declining yields – could also mean a cut in  demand for dollar-backed stablecoins like tether. CoinDesk’s Omkar Godbole reports. “Stablecoins are widely used as funding currencies and there has been a high demand for these dollar-backed cryptocurrencies from institutions,” Skew CEO Emmanuel Goh said. Carry trades have been a main driver of stablecoin issuance this year.

Quick bites

At stake

Earlier this week, Axios reported tensions between investors and developers have delayed the Filecoin project. 

According to the report published Tuesday, investors in Protocol Labs, a for-profit incubator of anticipated Web3 projects like IPFS and Filecoin, believe they are owed disbursements of Filecoin’s native token.  

Filecoin raised about $205 million in a 2017 ICO, in which some – but not all – of Protocol Lab’s seed round backers participated. Axios reports Protocol Labs “retained a percentage of the tokens,” with regular distributions being made to CEO Juan Batiz-Benet and early employees, “which in theory would be value accruing to the equity investors.”

Unnamed parties are apparently in mediation over receiving a portion of these tokens, which could potentially delay Filecoin’s imminent launch next month if not resolved, reporters Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva intuit. 

Fortune’s Jeff John Roberts read the news and added this insight: Filecoin is a representation of the entire blockchain space where it is common to raise millions of dollars through novel funding mechanisms, and frequently, fail to deliver. 

Part of the issue is, it’s hard building a new, open and fair version of the internet or the financial system. “But there is another reason to be skeptical, and that is the lack of incentive that blockchain companies have to succeed,” he writes. 

Front-loaded with cash, it’s easier to “travel the world” rather than “toil over blockchain code,” Roberts writes. 

While Filecoin is no stranger to delays (in February 2019, developers pushed back the launch of its first testnet. The mainnet had been estimated to deploy in the first quarter of 2019, then the second quarter, then to Q3/Q4 2019, then between July 20 and Aug. 21, 2020, now in a month), its network participants are less cynical. 

Despite a year of delays, Filecoin has found an incentivized community in China, and has onboarded miners, after it emailed hard drives containing climate data to future (probable) network participants.

In Benet’s own words from Consensus: Distributed: “Web 3 is about creating a platform that is decentralized, that puts human rights foremost, and can build a much freer and open internet and lock it in place.” 

Blockchain and cryptocurrency have already “changed the underlying guts and rails of major industries,” he said. But it hasn’t yet solved the dilemma between project developers and their investors. 

Market intel

Greens & reds
Bitcoin’s price pullback may worsen as the U.S. dollar shows signs of life. The dollar index, which tracks the greenback’s value against that of other reserve currencies, has jumped 1% to 93.000 in the past 24 hours – the biggest single-day rise in two months. This jump comes after July’s Federal Reserve meeting minutes show the central bank is not planning on implementing controversial yield curve controls on bonds. The correlation between bitcoin and the U.S. dollar has been historically weak but has picked up in the past month as investors look for alternative safe-haven assets, CoinDesk markets reporter Omkar Godbole writes.

Rendering Ren
Prices for ren, the token for the RenVM DeFi network, surged by more than 100% over the past week. That’s because the total amount of renBTC, a tokenized bitcoin that is locked in RenVM, broke 10,000 on Monday, according to data collected by DeFi Pulse. The total value locked in RenVM jumped to more than $174 million on Monday from approximately $59.9 million a week earlier. There is a growing demand for having bitcoin (BTC) on the Ethereum blockchain as it is increasingly used in DeFi, CoinDesk’s Muyao Shen reports. 

Tech pod

OMG! Fees!
Tether has added its eighth blockchain, OMG Network, to help alleviate congestion on the popular rail Ethereum. OMG is touted as a scaling solution to handle thousands of transactions at a third of the cost of Ethereum, which is currently experiencing a record high gas fees, or the price to run transactions. The third-largest cryptocurrency with a market capitalization of $13.1 billion is among the top Ethereum “gas guzzlers,” according to Ethgasstaion. CoinGecko data shows OMG tokens have increased 115% from $1.70 to $3.65 in the past seven days, as investors look to the network to escape climbing gas prices.

Op-ed

Gamifying gains
Andrew Thurman, a content consultant for Chainlink Labs and an adviser to IdeaMarkets, thinks non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are immutable, immortal, resistant to theft, impossible to forge and “boring as dirt.” Crypto collectibles aren’t for everyone, but NFTs have properties that can be applied to a variety of games increasing the stakes and the fun. Although, “not all NFT projects need to introduce such elegantly designed systems to become more fun,” he writes. 

Podcast corner

Real enough?
Some people think a recovery in stocks is divorced from reality, in which stores are closing, prices are rising and roughly 14.8 million Americans are collecting unemployment. Nathaniel Whittemore dives into the controversy and asks how real is it, and how are leading finance minds interpreting the recovery?

Who won #CryptoTwitter?

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Disclosure

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

Source: https://www.coindesk.com/ethereum-fees-bitcoin-ren

Blockchain

Bolivia Essentially Banned Crypto but Blockchain Advocates Are Pushing Back

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Earlier this year, Bolivian blockchain engineer Mario Blacutt – previously known in crypto circles only as “Berzeck” –finally felt safe enough to reveal his name and come out as the creator of a new blockchain network. 

Blacutt let down his guard after the left-wing government that had banned crypto fell in November 2019, and its leader, Evo Morales, fled to Mexico

A year earlier, Blacutt had his bank accounts shut down and his credit card taken away. The banks cited a directive put out by Bolivia’s central bank (BCB) in 2014 prohibiting virtual currencies, and flagged funds received in Blacutt’s accounts via crypto exchanges Bitstamp and Bitinka. Blacutt was paid in cryptocurrency.

“They said it was to protect me. This is a funny thing,” Blacutt said.

Even as many governments around the world embrace or at least regulate cryptocurrency, Bolivia is one of the rare countries that tried to stamp it out entirely. 

A 2014 central bank circular technically only prohibited the use of crypto by banks and in commercial transactions or payments. But in 2017, Bolivian authorities arrested 60 individuals who were allegedly “undergoing training related to the investment of money in cryptocurrencies,” according to a statement released by the country’s financial authority ASFI. 

So when Morales fled, Blacutt felt more at ease. “After he was ousted, I was more free to use my identity because I was optimistic that things were finally changing,” he told CoinDesk. 

But now, Morales is back.

In the balance

The right-wing regime that replaced the Morales regime has quickly become unpopular as Bolivia’s economy suffers during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Luis Arce, former economic minister to Morales, won the presidency in a landslide, restoring the socialist government to power; last month, the exiled Morales made a triumphant return to Bolivia.

Now, many things hang in the balance, including crypto. 

Alberto Bonadona, senior economist and emeritus professor at Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) in Bolivia told CoinDesk the current government is unlikely to reverse the crypto ban.

“All these kinds of cryptocurrencies are not quite welcome in Bolivia,” Bonadona said.

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are still widely viewed with skepticism in Bolivia, and adoption is slow compared to other Latin American countries like Mexico or Venezuela

Although Blacutt doesn’t believe he’s in any real danger, the return of the socialist government, he said, may put crypto enthusiasts in a “difficult position.” 

But a growing community of advocates including Bolivian software engineers, entrepreneurs and developers are determined to change the government’s position.

Even though policy remains unchanged, sentiment may be changing, albeit slowly. The interim government that came to power after Morales’ exit did not lift the ban, but the blockchain community visibly grew this year. Bolivian users only traded a monthly average of $21,330 on peer-to-peer exchange Paxful, but the platform saw a 570% increase in trading volume compared to 2019, while new user registrations went up by 230%. 

LocalBitcoins saw over 450% growth in trading volumes between January and September 2020, recording an all-time daily high of $17,000 on Sept. 2. 

Why ban crypto? 

In 2014, Bolivian software engineer Gabriela Melendrez was writing her undergraduate thesis on blockchain technology when the country’s central bank (BCB) issued the directive banning the use of “any kind of currency that is not issued and controlled by a government or an authorized entity.”

The directive was the first of its kind from a South American nation, and named a range of virtual currencies including bitcoin, namecoin, devcoin, quark and others as currencies that “do not belong to any state, country or economic zone” because they can cause losses to their holders.

Melendrez interviewed BCB personnel following the ban.

“The resolution was born to protect the population against pyramid schemes, Ponzi schemes and things like that. That was the answer they gave me,” Melendrez told CoinDesk via Telegram.

The 2017 statement by the ASFI reminded the citizens of Bolivia that this type of activity is prohibited across the nation because they may seek to trick Bolivians into losing their money and savings.   

The central bank and ASFI did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Blacutt confirmed the government was nervous about scams and the use of cryptocurrencies to fund criminal activities. But that was only part of the story. 

The BCB statement also said the ban is necessary to ensure the stability and purchasing power of the national currency, the boliviano. 

When the socialist government came to power in October, the country’s foreign reserves fell to a record low, the lowest in 13 years, down $1.3 billion since September. Wealthy Bolivians had begun sending money abroad, fearing President Arce’s promised wealth tax on millionaires. 

Cryptocurrencies “could help people to take money out of the economy. Right now, they’re trying to stop that,” Bonadona said. 

An uneasy fit 

When systems engineer Alvaro Guzman first heard about bitcoin back in 2013, he stayed up all night discussing the possible applications of blockchain in Bolivia.

“The first area I saw is, of course, an alternative to traditional banking. The second and very interesting area of development is on transparency,” Guzman told CoinDesk, citing claims of fraud that surrounded Morales’ fourth-term election last year, which led to his eventual resignation.

Guzman suggested that blockchain-based banking and cryptocurrencies can offer a viable alternative to traditional financial services in the country for a number of reasons, one being its high unbanked population. 

According to World Bank statistics, in 2017, 46% of Bolivian adults did not have a bank account while only 7% of adults had a credit card. For comparison, 29% of Venezuelan adults claimed to own a credit card in 2017.

Bolivia has a very large, informal economy that is not taxed or regulated by the government, Guzman said. In fact, it is the largest informal economy in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund. 

While a cash-driven economy and large unbanked population are driving crypto adoption in Mexico, Bolivia doesn’t seem to be showing the same momentum or interest in digital assets. 

Bonadona said the government and most Bolivians still view bitcoin as an instrument for speculation as opposed to a reserve or currency that can be used for international transactions. 

In Bolivia, Bonadona added, speculative investment instruments are not all the rage. According to the 2020 Investment Climate Statement by the U.S. Department of State, the Bolivian stock exchange (BBV) is very small, with more than 95% of transactions concentrated in bonds and debt instruments.

“There is the idea that basically this is a bubble and somehow, in some time, it will explode and won’t do any good for anybody who invested in it,” Bonadona said. 

Persistent advocates

Although it may have looked like an outright ban on the usage of crypto, Blacutt and Guzman agree that the 2014 central bank directive did not ban owning or trading crypto on exchanges, but only limited paying for goods and services with cryptocurrencies (hence keeping it out of circulation) and prohibited banks from transacting with them. 

The ban is very specific in saying that Bolivia is not allowing commercial transactions using a currency that’s not issued by the central bank, Guzman said, adding that he can’t go out and buy a burger or a car with bitcoin. 

“But that’s the only thing that they have written in the law. … The problem is that in practice, if you promote bitcoin, they can arrest you,” Blacutt said. 

Despite the ban, and the authorities’ somewhat haphazard interpretation of it, blockchain believers powered ahead through the Morales regime and seemed undeterred by the Socialist party’s return to power. 

“Technology is always one step ahead of legislation,” Guzman said. 

After the ban was implemented, crypto enthusiasts formed networks that traded in cash underground, making themselves invisible to the government, Guzman added.

According to blockchain developer Huascar Miranda Martinez, few Bolivians trade on peer-to-peer platforms like LocalBitcoins and even less use exchanges like Binance (where they are not allowed to trade with a Bolivian credit card), although that number is slowly growing. People mostly trade bitcoin in person to avoid interactions with banks: Buyers and sellers agree on prices in WhatsApp groups or other social media networks, and meet at restaurants or cafes to exchange bitcoin wallet addresses for cash.

“The bank prohibition is not a problem for us. It’s a problem for the bank,” Martinez said. 

To avoid getting flagged by banks, Guzman said people are now careful about how much money they transfer from wallets or exchanges, and make sure banks are not used in a way that breaks the law. 

“Basically, the only thing that the bank can do is say, hey, you’re getting $70,000? Who sent this money? How did you get it? And depending on the response, and the amount, the bank can follow up with an investigation and look for the source,” Guzman said. 

Road to adoption

Bolivia is in recession, compounded by the COVID-19 health crisis. Its economy is projected to contract by 7.3% this year, according to the World Bank. Although the pandemic’s economic fallout is driving crypto adoption in countries like Nigeria, where a tech-savvy population is increasingly using bitcoin as a hedge against inflation, in Bolivia people still seem to prefer physical assets like jewelry or cash.  

Guzman says this may have to do with a lack of knowledge of digital currency. Even if Bolivians buy things online, people still end up paying in cash, Guzman said, either on delivery or using a third party.

Bolivia’s blockchain activists aim to communicate with both the people and the government, helping them understand the broader applications of blockchain technology, Melendrez said.

Melendrez works with various crypto projects and founded Bolivian Mind Blockchain, a platform for learning and sharing knowledge about the technology. 

“Nowadays we are working on education and presenting projects that could help our society understand the technology,” Melendrez said. 

She eventually met Guzman, who was hosting meetings over beer to talk about community interest in cryptocurrencies. Lately, and more urgently, Guzman has been meeting with former lawmakers and experts to find ways to open a discussion with the government. 

Meanwhile, blockchain projects are slowly coming out of the woodwork: A Bolivian cattle ranch is to be tokenized so investors can trade physical assets digitally, and a blockchain advocate Carlos Rodrigo, has created a gold tokenization project

“I want to launch the project, and use that to show the government how we can raise capital in order to expand natural resources in our country with the private sector,” Rodrigo said. 

Rodrigo is hopeful the government will reverse the ban. Eventually, he said, “they’re going to do it.”

Disclosure

Source: https://www.coindesk.com/bolivia-crypto-ban

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Blockchain

U.S. Treasury’s Brian Brooks: ‘Nobody Is Going to Ban Bitcoin’

On Friday (December 4), during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box“, Brian P. Brooks, Acting Comptroller (since May) at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), said that “nobody is going to ban Bitcoin.” Brooks is currently also a member of the Board of Directors of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Between September 2018 and […]

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On Friday (December 4), during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box“, Brian P. Brooks, Acting Comptroller (since May) at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), said that “nobody is going to ban Bitcoin.”

Brooks is currently also a member of the Board of Directors of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Between September 2018 and March 2020, he served as Chief Legal Officer at crypto exchange Coinbase.

The OCC is “an independent bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury that charters, regulates, and supervises all national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks. Its goal is to ensure that the banks it supervises “operate in a safe and sound manner, provide fair access to financial services, treat customers fairly, and comply with applicable laws and regulations.”

Brooks’ comments about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general came during an interview with Suawk Box co-anchors Melissa Lee and Joe Kernen.

With Bitcoin trading around $19,000 at the time of today’s interview, Lee started the interview by asking Brooks about the tweet below by Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong:

Brooks replied:

“Melissa, you know rumors abound within Bitcoin more than almost any other place, but I would tell you is we’re very focused on getting this right. We’re very focused on not killing this, and it’s equally important that we develop the networks behind Bitcoin and other cryptos…”

Lee then asked if there could be some new crypto regulations before the end of Trump’s first term in office.

Brooks answered:

“I think you’re going to see a lot of good news for crypto by the end of the Trump term. Some is going to have to do with banks connecting to blockchains, some of it is going be more clarity around the nature of these assets. So, believe me, there’s going to be very positive messages coming up.

“At the same time, it’s a dangerous world out there. We have to be honest about that, but nobody is going to ban Bitcoin. Nobody is going to ban some of these transmission technologies. I think it’s going to be a lot less bad than people worry about.”

On November 10, Brooks testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and as part of his prepared statement, spoke about cryptoassets.

Brooks was appearing as a witness at a committee hearing titled “Oversight of Financial Regulators“. The other witnesses were the Honorable Randal K. Quarles, Vice Chairman for Supervision, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Honorable Jelena McWilliams, Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Honorable Rodney E. Hood, Chairman, National Credit Union Administration.

With regard to crypto, here is what Brooks had to say about usage of cryptocurrencies (including stablecoins) in the U.S and what actions the OCC has taken to respond to this usage:

“Today, roughly 60 million Americans own some type of cryptocurrency, with a total market cap of nearly $430 billion. These figures clearly illustrate that this payment mechanism is now firmly entrenched in the financial mainstream. Cryptocurrency has become a popular mechanism for sending and receiving payments for goods and services because transactions post in real time and provide convenience and security. Cryptocurrency also describes categories of specific currencies of value, and the rise in the use of stablecoins demonstrates consumers’ comfort with its use.”

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Blockchain

‘We’re Very Focused on Not Killing’ Bitcoin – Acting OCC Chief Brooks

Brooks’s comments come amid speculation of strict crypto-related regulations pertaining particularly to self-hosted wallets. “Nobody’s Going to Ban Bitcoin” In an interview with CNBC on Dec. 4, Brooks downplayed fears of a possible blanket crypto ban in the US. According to the Acting Comptroller of the Currency, the focus for regulators is not in enacting … Continued

The post ‘We’re Very Focused on Not Killing’ Bitcoin – Acting OCC Chief Brooks appeared first on BeInCrypto.

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Brian Brooks, acting head of the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) says regulators are not out to “kill” Bitcoin (BTC).

Brooks’s comments come amid speculation of strict crypto-related regulations pertaining particularly to self-hosted wallets.

“Nobody’s Going to Ban Bitcoin”

In an interview with CNBC on Dec. 4, Brooks downplayed fears of a possible blanket crypto ban in the US. According to the Acting Comptroller of the Currency, the focus for regulators is not in enacting more regulations but in creating a conducive environment for the technology to flourish.

Brooks added:

“We are very focused on getting this [crypto regulations] right. We’re very focused on not killing this [Bitcoin and cryptos].”

Back in November, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong claimed that the US Treasury was looking to rush through regulations targeted at non-custodial wallets.

While alluding to the possibility of Trump-era crypto regulations coming within the closing stages of the current administration, Brooks, a one-time chief legal officer at Coinbase remarked that these laws would seek to balance out concerns for all stakeholders.

Apart from Armstrong’s warnings, the US crypto space has also been rocked with stablecoin regulatory discussions in Congress. The latest Congressional bill seeks to mandate Federal approval for stablecoin issuers.

Legal Clarity and Robust AML Compliance

For Brooks, the concern for regulators should revolve around legal clarity for cryptos as well as strict compliance to anti-money laundering (AML) standards. Commenting on the need for greater clarity, the acting OCC chief opined:

“What we do need is clarity about what is allowed, and so we need some guidance for example whether banks can connect directly to blockchains as payment networks–the answer has to be yes.”

As previously reported by BeInCrypto, the OCC has already approved some Federally-chartered banks to provide custody for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. According to Brooks, the move is indicative of the type of clarity required by the industry as a whole.

Commenting further, the OCC chief remarked that greater clarity would enable investors more freedom to participate in the market. For Brooks, crypto may have been a bubble back in 2017-2018, but the asset class is showing signs of maturing that should attract significant institutional interest.

Indeed, the current consensus is that big-money players are at the heart of the prevailing bullishness in the Bitcoin and crypto market. Reports indicate that companies now own almost 1 million BTC, which amounts to ~$16 billion at current prices.

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Osato is a reporter at BeInCrypto and Bitcoin believer based in Lagos, Nigeria. When not immersed in the daily happenings in the crypto scene, he can be found watching historical documentaries or trying to beat his Scrabble high score.

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Source: https://beincrypto.com/were-very-focused-on-not-killing-bitcoin-acting-occ-chief-brooks/

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