Much of the conversation regarding solutions for scaling Bitcoin to more users over the next few years has revolved around miners, but the reality is that many of these miners are not as interested in making changes to the underlying protocol as many would think.
In the early days of the public debate around Bitcoin XT, the option to move everyone to a new network with a larger block size limit was largely mischaracterized as a vote among the bitcoin mining community. More recently, miners have been accused of delaying the biggest upgrade to the Bitcoin protocol by way of the Bitcoin Core client up to this point, known as Segregated Witness.
The Difference Between Miners and Mining Pools
Before getting into the mindset of a bitcoin miner, it’s important to point out the difference between a bitcoin miner and a bitcoin mining pool. Individual miners pool their hardware together in an effort to smooth the flow of bitcoins earned by their equipment. Instead of searching for their own block reward, which may only come once a month (or less frequently), miners combine their hashing power together and share all of the block rewards (and sometimes the transaction fees as well) with each other whenever their combined efforts are able to find a new block.
For the most part, it is the mining pools that are tasked with the job of choosing which software to run and therefore which protocol upgrades to support. This has become one of the most politicized aspects of the Bitcoin ecosystem. For example, Bitcoin.com and ViaBTC have been rather loud in their support for Bitcoin Unlimited, which is an attempt to move all Bitcoin users over to a new network where the block size limit becomes more flexible.
The Mindset of a Bitcoin Miner
According to Samson Mow, who is the former COO of China-based bitcoin exchange and mining pool BTCC, miners are not as interested in protocol upgrades as one would think. “Right now, it is not the miners who are holding [Segregated Witness] back — at least the ones in China,” Mow stated on a recent episode of Bitcoin News on the World Crypto Network. “They’re not all that into the whole technical stuff, and they’re not following all of the developments and the benefits of whatever. They’re just buying equipment to mine.”
Mow went on to claim that it’s the mining pools who aren’t upgrading for various reasons. “It is a bigger upgrade than other versions,” he stated. “There’s more complexity to it . . . It’s not that straightforward; that’s why I think there is a delay.”
Mow added that there is also, in his view, a political aspect to why mining pools have yet to signal support for Segregated Witness, which is why he has become interested in the idea of a user-activated soft fork.
A Rising Bitcoin Price Keeps Everyone Relaxed
CoinJournal reached out to Chandler Guo, who is a well-known bitcoin and Ethereum Classic miner in China, to get his thoughts on Mow’s statements. Guo noted that the lack of real tension (with actual actions rather than talk) in the Bitcoin ecosystem may be due to the rising bitcoin price.
“All two million users are king of this world,” said Guo. “What [do they] all trust? Proof-of-work and the blockchain. Why is there no two million user war today? A $1000 bitcoin price is not bad for them. When will we have war? When the bitcoin price crashes to $200.”
While Guo was talking about users, the same thought process can also be applied to miners. After all, the price of bitcoin is continuing to rise, so why would anyone want to rock the boat?
On the other hand, a drop or stagnation in the bitcoin price could lead to miners and users moving the scalability debate from talk to actions.
Correction: A previous version of this article included a quote regarding Segwit breaking merged mining. This quote was removed as the statement was inaccurate.