GILLETTE — Most new technologies are met with widespread skepticism, but that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to blockchain technology and Wyoming legislators.
In the past two legislative sessions, Wyoming lawmakers have passed 13 new blockchain laws, with little to no opposition, in an effort to make the Cowboy State the place to be for blockchain technology.
“Wyoming’s becoming a state that’s known for its nimbleness in innovation,” said state Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower.
Brian Worthen, CEO of Visionary Broadband, said Wyoming is in a unique situation.
“Because of the (population) size of our state, it’s easy to roll out new innovation. There’s a certain level of accessibility to government that is unsurpassed,” Worthen said.
Driskill said he and Lindholm proposed a cryptocurrency bill six years ago. Driskill said they saw potential in blockchain, the technology that makes cryptocurrency work.
“It became very apparent that blockchain had immense value in many, many areas,” he said.
During the 2018 legislative session, state lawmakers passed a number of bills regulating cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, and the Cowboy State has since become the model for other states to follow.
Seven other states have copied Wyoming’s blockchain legislation, Driskill said.
What is blockchain?
Blockchain was invented in 2008 as the public ledger for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
Blockchain is a system where a record of transactions is kept across computers that are linked in a peer-to-peer network.
Blocks of information are stored in a database, or chain. The blocks store transaction information, such as the date, dollar amount and name of the people or businesses participating in the transaction.
“It’s just a high-end accounting system that makes it where parties who don’t trust each other can do business with each other because they trust the data,” Driskill said.
Unlike traditional computer systems, blockchain is decentralized and encrypted. If one point in the chain goes down, the network can still continue.
“You’re literally storing a key within a publicly viewable space for future reference,” Worthen said. “Anything from a serial number to a description of land.”
“When the internet came out, nobody understood where it was going, what it was. I think a lot of blockchain is that way,” Driskill said.
Driskill co-chairs the Blockchain Task Force with Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance. It includes a couple of other lawmakers and members of the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition. The task force spent last year coming up with blockchain bills.
House Bill 57, called the “financial technology sandbox,” will let companies that have an innovative financial product or service request a waiver of state regulations if the current law does not allow the product to be available to customers.
This law has “great potential,” Driskill said, because a lot of Wyoming’s regulations are “inflexible,” and this would provide innovators relief from existing laws for up to three years.
House Bill 74 authorizes state-chartered banks to provide basic banking services to blockchain and other businesses. Senate File 125 authorizes qualified custodians for digital assets, including virtual currencies, digital securities and utility tokens, and recognizes the property rights of the owners of those assets.
All of the bills were signed into law with very little opposition. Driskill said there were a couple of reasons for this.
“We have a good relationship with the industry,” he said. “It’s much easier to write laws when the industry’s actually helping you out.”
He added that the bills passed in 2018 created income for the state without costing it anything, which gave blockchain a favorable reputation around the state.
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“Everywhere you turn, someone wants you to build something, pay them to move here or help them relocate,” Driskill said. “This one was a shot that doesn’t cost the state anything, and it was worth a try.
“The Legislature trusts it. That feeling’s incredible, you have a totally new idea that’s hard to grasp and to have a body embrace it, willing to try it, that’s a great feeling.”
Driskill said that in the future, he expects more blockchain bills to come through to refine the law.
“Any time you’re plowing new ground, you’ll make some mistakes,” he said. “You’ll have to make some changes.”
Worthen said it will be easy to store deeds, plats and consumer loans on a blockchain system, adding that the technology could eventually replace notaries.
“It’ll be pretty easy for counties and record keepers to start using blockchain within five years,” Worthen said.
Driskill said there already is work being done to put Wyoming courthouses on blockchain. There was a beta test in the Teton County Clerk’s Office and Carbon County is next on the list.
Worthen said Visionary ran into an issue when buying property in Cheyenne.
“The easements weren’t what we understood, because someone forgot to carry the easements forward in the title,” he said. “Blockchain would carry that forward, instead of, ‘Oh, shoot, a piece of paper fell out of the folder.’”
Driskill and Lindholm started BeefChain, which applies blockchain technology to one of Wyoming’s oldest industries: agriculture.
BeefChain uses blockchain to upload information on individual cows.
Driskill said the goal is to have it so that when someone orders steak at a restaurant, they can scan a QR code on the menu and find out which ranch the beef came from.
“We’ve gotten to care more about our food,” he said. “Having that ability to drill down to that level gives you details on that food, whether the beef was corn fed or grass fed.”
In 10 years, Worthen said, people might be able to walk into a car dealership, see a car, agree to the terms on their phone and blockchain will tie them to the title of that car. Once that’s complete, they can drive the car home.
Something that may be on the horizon is a “smart contract,” which is a computer code built into the blockchain to verify a contract agreement.
A Taiwanese airline uses smart contracts for passengers’ travel insurance, Driskill said. When a flight is canceled, the passenger does not need to fill out paperwork to prove that the flight was canceled.
“With blockchain, they know it happened,” he said. “It cuts out a lot of middle men and saves a lot of time and paperwork.”
For every person in blockchain, there are 18 open jobs, Driskill said. He estimated that there probably aren’t even a hundred blockchain jobs in Wyoming now, but he’s excited about the future.
“I’d hope in five years the (number of) jobs would be between 500 and a thousand,” he said.
Worthen said he doesn’t think there will be many jobs directly related to blockchain, but the support services for the technology is where the growth will happen.
“It’s no different than someone trained in HR,” he said. “(People will) be trained in record keeping associated with blockchain.”
Driskill said that if blockchain companies move to Wyoming, Jackson is the top candidate because of its air service, followed by Cheyenne and Laramie. The challenge, he said, will be getting these companies to move into a city like Gillette, Riverton or Sheridan.
“If our wildest dreams came true, Wyoming would turn into a mini Silicon Valley,” Driskill said. “If (blockchain) gets growing, I think Wyoming could be that way.”