Interview with Paul Brigner of the Chamber of Digital Commerce
Media: Decentralize Me Podcast
ArcBlock Podcast Interview with Paul Brigner, Director of Technology Policy at the Chamber of Digital Commerce.
Matt: Thank you again for joining us. I'd love to give our users and the ArcBlock community more information about you, Paul Brigner, the Director of Technology Policy at the Chamber of Digital Commerce. So to start, can you just give everyone a bit of your background, and a little bit more understanding of who the Chamber of Digital Commerce is?
Paul: You bet. Thank you. Thank you for having me on. So, the Chamber of Digital Commerce, it's a Washington D.C. based trade association for the blockchain and digital asset industry. Our mission is to promote the acceptance and use of digital assets and blockchain-based technologies. We do that through education and advocacy. We work closely with policymakers, regulatory agencies, and industry, of course, to develop an environment that fosters innovation and jobs and investment.
So this is a traditional trade association for the blockchain industry, and I'm very excited to say that we've been at this for a long time now, five years. So we have a great background and excellent track record and have been doing fantastic work, so the Chamber is very vibrant. I personally have been here at the Chamber for about a year and a half. I was at Georgetown University prior, I was working on blockchain research, leading a research institute there, as well as cybersecurity. My career actually started in software development, which is one of the reasons why I'm so interested in ArcBlock. I have been a developer, and I understand all the good things that ArcBlock is doing for software developers in the blockchain ecosystem. I did that for about 10 years, culminating and working as a chief architect at Verizon here in D.C., developing some of their big ordering systems for telecommunications circuits.
While I was working at Verizon, I was also attending law and business school in the evenings at Georgetown University, leading to a new career in tech policy. I've now been doing that for almost 15 years. From there, I continued to work Verizon working on internet policy-related issues - broadband, net neutrality, and other similar matters that Verizon was dealing with. Eventually, I left Verizon to go to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). I had an exciting offer to go work for the Hollywood studios and help them with their tech policy, and doing some outreach to the technology community. After the MPAA, I moved to the Internet Society, an organization that was set up by some of the original founders of the internet. Earlier, I mentioned I was at Georgetown for a bit, so coming to the Chamber was a natural transition for me, and there's another link between Georgetown and the Chamber that is very important. The Chamber has an annual event at Georgetown, and I can tell you more about that too.
Matt: What am a fantastic background. You've done it all, it sounds like.
Paul: I'm trying to get the most out of this life, so. I'm working really hard.
Matt: Fortunately for the companies like ours, we have someone like you working on our behalf. Can you talk a little bit about the companies who are currently involved with the Chamber, or who are members and what they're looking to do?
Paul: Yeah, one of the things that make the Chamber so unique is that we have a very diverse base of over 200 members. Our members range from large tech companies like Cisco and IBM, banks including TD Bank and Wells Fargo to large consultancies like KPMG, PWC, and Deloitte. Of course, we also have lots of startups and a lot of smaller blockchain companies.
With such a diverse membership group that it allows us to look at the whole ecosystem and be a powerful advocate when we go the Hill and speak with regulators and politicians.
Having that kind of backing makes a big difference as a trade association, and because of this, the Chambers position is unique among all organizations in the blockchain space. We are the world's largest and most established.
Matt: And with the insights that you have to your ecosystem members, are you all seeing a lot of similar trends or challenges between the larger companies and the smaller companies? Or from what you have seen what you have over the last year, can you describe some of the trends that you're beginning to see in the crypto/blockchain space?
Paul: Well, there's been a lot, and any of us who work in this space realize that it moves at lightning speed. I guess the thing that has made the biggest difference recently is the rise of the stable coin and how important that has become. With Stablecoins, countries can consider using blockchain as their own currency, or central banks can look at using cryptocurrency as a possible alternative or even developing their own. We've heard that China will be rolling out its central bank digital currency very soon, and other countries are following suit. So that is a big deal. I think that just from a policy and economic perspective, the fact that blockchain is being adopted in that way is probably one of the upcoming trends that could transform the industry.
Matt: From your perspective, do you think this will change the Chamber's approach to public policy? And why do you think public policy is such a critical component for the blockchain industry going forward?
Paul: Public policy is critical to everything because it's setting the rules of the road for all of our activities and the way that we interact in our economic relations.
So, if you think about how it's already affecting us, you have almost every regulatory agency in D.C. taking a look at blockchain from their own perspective. And just to give you an idea of what that means, you can go to organizations like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) who regulate the investments and securities industry. They deem most tokens to be securities. In fact, they perceive most of the industry to be dealing in securities. At least that's what many people perceive. The CFTC, on the other hand, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is looking at specific cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and ETH as commodities. The IRS, the U.S. Department of Treasury, they look at tokens and cryptocurrencies as property. And then you can go to yet another agency, let's say the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, FinCEN, they look at cryptocurrencies as currency. So each one of these agencies has its own regulatory requirements.
It's also important to note that many of these agencies tend to be very isolated. That can make it very difficult for a lot of companies because there is a lack of consistency across the regulatory agencies. You have to go through many steps and likely employ many lawyers to understand the landscape. Our goal is to help simplify this, and to make these rules clear, which in turn enables us to help propose new legislation that's going to help the industry. That's what they do on a day-to-day basis here.
Matt: I'm going to put you a little bit on the spot here, because I think what we're talking about is there's a lot of companies in the industry overall and a lot of us have different needs, but there is one company recently that in fact, I think can break through some of the silos and that, of course, is Facebook. And so I was curious from the Chamber's perspective, is Facebook Libra good or bad for the industry?
Paul: Sure. So in this area, I want to speak for myself personally, because the Chamber hasn't made any public statements about Facebook Libra. So I don't want to go out and break new ground here, but I'm happy to give you my personal perspective on it.
I actually think it's been good for the industry. I think it is forcing policymakers to address it (cryptocurrencies) and understand it. I don't know that we would have the same level of focus if it were anyone else besides Facebook pushing Libra. I don't think the response has been a surprise. I happen to know many people there. I believe they have a very sophisticated government relations group. So, I don't think they made a miscalculation, and this whole process is what they were targeting.
I think they, I am going to suspect they know what they're doing. I don't know that any of us outside will understand that, because it looks like it has got to be very difficult for what they're going through globally. It's such an unusual thing to have governments around the world come out and call for a moratorium on the development of a system. We're not even talking about something that is ready to go or is operating, and it's just, it's quite mind-boggling. We are in uncharted territory here, and in my opinion, from a policy perspective, it is fascinating.
Matt: Speaking of tokens, recently, the Chamber introduced a new series of reports focused on "understanding of digital tokens." And in the context of Libra and other tokens, maybe you can share some details on what this new initiative is all about and what is the driving force.
Paul: Yeah. This has been something that we've been doing for quite a while now, and we actually released our second series of reports on digital tokens. The whole series is called "Understanding Digital Tokens. The first series went back over a year and focused on utility tokens, and now our new series is looking at tokens that are securities. As an example, this new report reviews many of the common issues that you have if your token is a security, but that's just one aspect. We have other reports that cover things like the overall market for tokens, including overviews, trends, consumer protection, anti-money laundering, and cybersecurity, to name a few. We're trying to cover all the issues that the industry is having to grapple with.
And these reports are available on our website. They're excellent. Anyone can get a downloadable PDF to review, and you don't have to be a member to see them. So please visit www.digitalchamber.org to get a free copy. The reports included a lot of valuable information and were done by industry experts and thought leaders in the cryptocurrency industry.
Matt: One of the recent announcements by the Chamber that I found to be really interesting was that the Chamber is no longer just "American." You've expanded and merged with Canada's largest blockchain trade association. Could you share how things have changed at the Chamber since that merger took place and whether the Chamber is continuing to look at more international expansion opportunities outside of North America?
Paul: At the Chamber, we've always had a very global perspective. We produce a report every week that goes out to our members that covers global updates. So having Canada come on board was a great addition and now helps us do what we do even better. For example, just this week, the Chamber of Digital Commerce Canada produced a report called the Canadian Blockchain Census, and it's measuring the Canadian blockchain ecosystem. And again, this report is available on our website. It puts together a comprehensive look at all the different companies in Canada operating in the blockchain space. It's a bit early to say where we're going, but I anticipate that we will continue to focus on new geographies.
I'm not in a position here at the Chamber to tell you how that's going to happen, but I feel confident that will happen. We have, and I should just say, and I think everyone who knows anything about the Chamber knows this, but Perianne Boring. She is the founder and CEO of the Chamber and is a fantastic leader with a strong vision to move us forward. I am confident that she is always looking forward and at new opportunities to make us better at what we do.
Matt: So, a few minutes ago, you described some of the different agencies within the government. How do we find a middle ground where blockchain, cryptocurrencies, technology, and then financial and government services can really coexist? Or do you think they can coexist in a meaningful way?
Paul: Yeah, I do believe that. If I didn't, I would be a very depressed advocate. I am absolutely committed to making that coexistence a reality, and that's what we're doing. It's going to take a lot of education and new rules and laws. For 2019, there were 249 state bills introduced for blockchain-related technology. And at the national level, there were 36 bills introduced. Those numbers don't reflect other activities like the SEC enforcement actions. So, it's actually pretty remarkable what we're seeing just over the last year.
Matt: How does the Chamber work at keeping your large member ecosystem engaged and part of your process?
Paul: We operate several working groups, and I personally run some of them. So we have these groups that have periodic calls. We also have meetings, we get out, and we go visit members and have these special meetings where members are. So that's something that we've got some people here that I don't think ever unpack their suitcase, but fortunately, that's not me. I generally get to stay here in the office and keep the trains running. But there's just constant outreach that we're doing.
And we also have a big annual event that I should mention, I referred to it earlier in the introduction, that link to Georgetown. Every year in March, we have the D.C. Blockchain Summit, and it is an opportunity for industry and regulators and policymakers to all get-together and talk about the issues. We have two days, day, and a half-filled with fascinating panels and discussions. So please put that on your radar, https://www.dcblockchainsummit.com. Registration is open, in fact. So get your tickets early to get the discounted prices.
Matt: One thing I wanted to ask you about, and as somebody who's working in public policy for the Chamber, what's the biggest win so far?
Paul: That's tough. We do so much. Of course, having 200 members by our fifth anniversary is a great accomplishment.
Perhaps another this year would be our Congressional Blockchain Education Day. We were able to bring many of our members to Washington D.C. and connect them with policymakers, staff, and Congress members to educate them on the blockchain industry. It was pretty remarkable to be able to do that, and we were able to arrange meetings for everyone. I think that was a huge win and is a great example of what we do here at the Chamber.
Matt: And so with those wins in mind, what's next for the Chamber in 2020 or beyond? What will you be looking to achieve?
Paul: Yeah. Well, the summit is coming up on March 11th and 12th of 2020, so that's going to be a big win. We also have a new initiative to develop a national action plan for blockchain. We want policymakers at the highest level, and at the executive level, to be engaged and saying positive things about the industry.
To achieve this, we need to help everyone understand the potential of blockchain. For example, if you look at what the White House has done to support other technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and 5G, one can see that those are formally considered and recognized as technologies of the future that are being actively promoted. And that support can include executive orders and other things that are happening at the highest levels of government to make those technologies successful in both governments and in the industry.
We want blockchain to be in that same group or treated with that same kind of approach to be actively promoted positively. As many in the industry are always aware, the president publically stated that he's not a fan of cryptocurrency. This is an area where we need to turn things around, and we've been aggressively working on that. So it's our vision to promote this national action plan and to work on changing the industry's public perception.
Just recently, seven members of Congress wrote a letter to the Director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, to request that the administration hold a forum on blockchain technology. I believe that will happen in the not too distant future, at which time we will have the highest level of offices in the country saying positive things about blockchain.
Matt: Paul, I don't think I could've done a better job telling our community and our users about the Chamber of Digital Commerce and outlining why it's such an important organization for all of us. I want to say thank you for taking the time to share and educate our community about the work you are doing. Thanks very much for that.
Paul: Oh, thank you. It's been my privilege, and I just want to say again how proud we are to have ArtBlocks as a member of the Chamber. Personally, on a personal level, as a former software developer, so excited about what you're doing and making the technology more accessible to developers. So, we're going to be watching you closely and just so happy that you're so closely engaged with us.