High Bitcoin Fees From BRC-20 And Ordinals Lead To Controversy And Challenges
May 9, 2023

High Bitcoin Fees From BRC-20 And Ordinals Lead To Controversy And Challenges



The fees collected in a single block of Bitcoin transactions have surpassed the block reward, a testament to the growing demand for block space as a result of Ordinals and BRC-20. Given that this is the first time this has happened without the price of bitcoin being in a significant bull market, it is a milestone in the evolution of Bitcoin, as it reinforces the growing potential for transaction fees to sustain the network’s operations.

According to Dustin Trammell, CEO of Trammell Venture Partners, the first time that the fees in a block surpassed the block reward was in block 500,521 in 2017.

The rise in transaction fees can be attributed to the introduction of Ordinals and BRC-20. Inscriptions, sets of data inscribed utilizing the Ordinals protocol, already pumped up the fee market and began impacting mempools within the last couple of months. But BRC-20, a recently-introduced token standard which allows tokens to be tied to the Bitcoin blockchain, has created an economic incentive with minting, most often done on the smallest UTXO size possible, leading to the recent competition for block space.

This has led users to pay higher and higher fees to ensure that their transactions are processed faster, as miners naturally prioritize bitcoin transactions with higher fees to maximize their profits.

On top of that, the recent rise in Bitcoin’s price has also contributed to an increase (although small) in transaction fees, as users are willing to pay more to move their bitcoin holdings around. The combination of these factors has resulted in a significant increase in the revenue earned by miners from transaction fees, which is now exceeding the fixed block reward in certain blocks.

Source: mempool.space

The increase in fees has had a measurable impact on businesses that utilize both on-chain bitcoin and Lightning. Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, has had to halt and restart bitcoin withdrawals twice, claiming network congestion was the reason. As a result, the firm has stated that it is looking into integrating Lightning in order to better facilitate small withdrawals during high fee environments. Francis Pouliot, CEO of Bull Bitcoin, a Canadian, bitcoin-only non-custodial exchange, took to Twitter, saying “I think it’s important for bitcoiners to know how increased fees w/o increased tx volume and price pumps affect business like ours.” 

It’s not just businesses, either — citizens in countries that rely on bitcoin are seeing difficulties, as the fees for on-chain transactions are significant sums of money for many — and Lightning is not always available yet.

Bitcoin’s security market has long been a center of debate, as, save for price bull runs, block space has largely remained cheap since Bitcoin’s inception.

While the fixed block reward is set to decrease over time, the rise in transaction fees can offset this reduction and ensure that miners continue to be incentivized to process Bitcoin transactions. But many individuals on Bitcoin Twitter seemingly disagree with Ordinals and BRC-20 fulfilling Bitcoin’s fee market security role, calling the flood of transactions a “DoS attack.”

Anita Posch, a Bitcoiner focused on global adoption, also highlighted challenges with adoption on Twitter, asking, “Can anyone explain how I’m going to onboard people with these fees? Can’t use on-chain, can’t open channels. Makes custodial Lightning the only option.”

Others are quick to remind their fellow Bitcoiners that this phenomenon is not something that can be easily reversed, and was eventually inevitable — the increase in fees is a major incentive for miners to continue facilitating the transactions that cause it.

“BRC-20’s purpose so far has been the highlighting of certain friction points within the Bitcoin community and sparking a very necessary debate about immutability, censorship and what Bitcoin is and is supposed to be.” AngelBlock CEO Alex Strzesniewski said in regards to the controversy. “A debate that is long overdue.”

While the debate continues, the free market and built-in incentives of Bitcoin will resolve the situation in whichever way the network finds most valuable. 


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