As countries around the world heavily invest in the technology and make statements such as China’s President Xi Jinping announcing blockchain as a ‘breakthrough technology’ that is ‘ten times as important as the internet’, the U.S. has been relatively silent on its policy for blockchain technology. With Facebook’s Project Libra resulting in hearings and examinations of cryptocurrency, it appeared the U.S. might overlook blockchain technology as a space for the government to encourage investment in. And as the 116th Congress heads into the second and final year of the term, it appeared the idea on any discussion of how blockchain technology may have other applications besides cryptocurrency was history.
Until this last Wednesday, when Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) held a hearing as Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee on blockchain technology titled ‘Building Blocks of Change: How Blockchain Technology Benefits Small Business’. While others in Congress have made the arguments for examining blockchain technology, it is significant that Velázquez, as part of the Democratic leadership in the House, chose to hold the hearing at all. In terms of her potential ability to impact her colleagues up to the Speaker of the House on the role blockchain technology could play in the U.S., Forbes decided to ask the Chairwoman for some background on her decision to focus on blockchain.
Forbes: What brought blockchain technology to the attention of the U.S. Small Business Committee?
Chairwoman Velázquez: The technology landscape moves at a rapid pace, and federal policy must keep up. Small businesses across the country are utilizing blockchain technology to open up new markets, enhance cybersecurity, and streamline their operations. Congress needs to understand the ways that small businesses use this technology in order to craft legislation that fits their needs.
Forbes: For our readers, what is the general purpose of the U.S. Small Business Committee?
Chairwoman Velázquez: The House Small Business Committee was created in 1941 and is the only Committee dedicated solely to the needs of small firms. We work to understand the issues that small businesses face in the real world and to create an environment where small firms can thrive. We oversee the Small Business Administration and strive to ensure that small businesses can do things like access capital, rebuild their business after a natural disaster, and navigate the federal contracting process.
Forbes: Most people have seen Congress spend quite some time on Facebook – a large business – and on their idea of blockchain and cryptocurrency and launching their idea in Switzerland. What would you say to small start-up small businesses who may fear both the size of Facebook as a company against which they feel they cannot compete with in blockchain and a regulatory environment that is too difficult to navigate without huge compliance and legal fees that only the Facebooks of the world could compete in?
Chairwoman Velázquez: Our Committee is committed to working to achieve an even playing field between small businesses and big tech. The internet is so ingrained in American commerce that we cannot afford for small firms to be beholden to large corporations. One of the reasons that blockchain is so exciting is because of its potential as a decentralizing technology. Blockchain can reduce costs when it comes to business operations, data storage, and cybersecurity allowing entrepreneurs to rely on large companies less and take greater control of their business. The future of the internet must be open and democratic, not dominated by a handful of entities, and blockchain can play a role in making that happen.
Feedback on the Hearing
Trade associations that were represented at the hearing included the Chamber of Digital Commerce and the Blockchain Association, who provided feedback on the importance of the hearing for blockchain technology.
Perianne Boring, President of the Chamber of Digital Commerce, an organization that has been advocating for blockchain technology over the last five years, stated ‘Chairwoman Velázquez highlighted an important point that the federal government should encourage the private sector’s efforts in innovating with blockchain technology.’ Ms. Boring noted this hearing represented a shift in the narrative on Capitol Hill to a more positive and supportive tone towards this industry. ‘What makes America a superpower is our private sector.’
Kristin Smith of the Blockchain Association, a trade organization that has been operating in D.C. for a year and half, noted ‘Blockchain is often discussed in terms of what big, brand name businesses are doing with technology. However, that focus obscures the benefits that blockchain can provide to small, local businesses. In much the same way the internet provided an audience-building path for many small businesses, we think blockchain could have the same effect, providing services and tools for those businesses to take advantage of. We’re happy that this committee is working to explore how blockchain tech works at the ground level.’
Ms. Dawn Dickson, the CEO of PopCom from Columbus, OH, was one of the four witnesses who testified at the hearing and is a member of the National Policy Network of Women of Color in Blockchain. Cleve Mesidor, who leads the network, stated, ‘Dawn is a successful entrepreneur and was an important voice for the millions of small businesses across the nation who are looking to new technologies like blockchain to optimize their enterprises in the innovation economy. I encourage the Committee to continue to be inclusive as they engage stakeholders and convene future hearings.’
More information about the Small Business Committee and the hearing can be seen at:
Note: Jason Brett is a former employee at the Chamber of Digital Commerce and Cleve Mesidor sits on the Board of Advisors for the Value Technology Foundation, of which Jason is the founder and CEO.