While debate remains over the origin and implications of the rising transaction fees on the bitcoin network last week, the sudden increase in network use appears to be creating pressures for industry businesses.
To date, this has mostly manifested in public calls to action by industry CEOs who have taken to blog posts to detail concerns over the current state of the network. Though there’s disagreement on finer points, those wishing to send a bitcoin transaction today are paying higher fees, or else waiting longer to have transactions confirm.
In the midst of this development, bitcoin wallet provider Blockchain has released data that indicates its users are issuing more complaints related to service disruptions, providing a window into how bitcoin’s larger consumer-facing businesses are being affected by the network developments.
Blockchain CEO Peter Smith indicated in a Medium post today that the startup is seeing "new records" for support tickets related to "unconfirmed transactions", however, it did not go into further detail.
Data provided by Blockchain to CoinDesk indicates that support tickets in this category rose 110% from January to February, a figure that dwarfed a 14% increase observed from December to January.
Blockchain co-founder Nic Cary said:
"In the first week of March, we've set a company-wide record in issue management. We've had nearly as many cases this past week as we did the entire month of [February]."
Cary went on to state that support tickets are being resolved on average in just over two hours, but that this is putting added pressure on the company’s staff and users.
"Many of the of the voices opining on the state of the network and scaling debate do not serve end users and so they don't really know how frustrating it's getting for regular folks trying to make transactions," Cary said.
Still, just how much pressure this is putting on startup business models, and how much of a concern this should be for developers, remains a contentious topic.
Blockchain’s figures come at a time when industry leaders are beginning to speak out on the issue following a private industry meeting from 26th to 28th February in which the topic of how best to scale the bitcoin network was discussed.
Conversation about the event was minimal until a controversial post by Coinbase’s Armstrong on Friday in which he criticized Bitcoin Core developers, calling the team overly ideological and immature. He further advocated for a proposal called Bitcoin Classic that would increase the capacity of transactions the bitcoin network would be able to process in each data block to 2MB, up from 1MB today.
Such comments set off a firestorm of criticism on social media, inspiring blog posts by developers such as Oleg Andreev, who argued that as the blockchain system with the biggest network effect, bitcoin does not need to rush to add users.
Rather, Andreev argued advances from other blockchain-based systems will simply be added to bitcoin, meaning users are unlikely to adopt another system despite added fees and longer wait times for confirmations.
He suggests that the network’s security and integrity should be paramount, and that they should not be risked on short-term gains.
Network pressure subsides
Against this background, data from 21 Inc indicates that the average fee needed for a 30-minute transaction confirmation was in decline on Monday.
Last Thursday, users needed to pay 60 satoshis per byte for a transaction confirmation time of roughly 30 minutes, a figure that was up slightly from than the 50 satoshis per byte observed at press time.
Data also indicates that the number of blocks that are near capacity or filled to capacity is subsiding after spiking last week.
Adding further fuel to the debate are allegations that network activity contributing to last week’s transaction surge should be viewed as "demand", and that a capacity increase is needed to accommodate users who are being denied service.
For example, some observers believe that individuals or entities may be colluding to drive up the number of transactions on the network to sway the ongoing technical debates.
However, Blockchain's data provides evidence that bitcoin’s users are experiencing issues regardless of the root cause.
"Most of these users are not worried about the politics behind technical changes, they depend on bitcoin to be functional and reliable."