While some call Bitcoin an “existential threat to the state,” local governments could soon embrace the digital currency and payment system as a practical alternative to credit and debit cards.
E-Gov Link, an Ohio company that helps municipalities accept payments online for parking tickets, permits, and the like, now allows its customers to take bitcoin.- Noting that "credit card purchases tend to carry high transaction costs due to the middleman and due to the high costs of fraudulent online purchases," E-Gov President Bill Nadler emphasized in a press release, "having a payment option that doesn’t carry that heavy transactional cost is definitely a plus." Bitcoin transactions can be processed at a fraction of the cost of other payment methods because they avoid the interchange structure of the legacy card processors.
Aside from the benefits to merchants, bitcoin payment choices have significant benefits to consumers who may have already received bitcoin from others in the sale of products or services and do not necessarily want to convert out of the digital currency. Broadening merchant acceptance expands the "network effect" of a young currency and starts to make Bitcoin viable as an end-to-end payments system.
"We know the bitcoin community is passionate about using bitcoin for payments, and will be demanding it of their local governments," said Nadler. "We’re happy to be here to answer the call, as municipalities scramble to find partners to help them with bitcoin."
Naturally, the use of bitcoin in local government settings will not be leveraging its optional anonymity properties, thus demonstrating bitcoin's overall flexibility when compared to physical cash.
"We look at bitcoin as a competitive advantage," says Jerry Felix, Vice President of Software Development at E-Gov Link. The company sees it as a natural evolution for governments to accept bitcoin as the currency gains popularity and like in other merchant categories, supporting bitcoin first creates a first-mover advantage. E-Gov Link focuses on integrating bitcoin payments into the shopping cart experience while relying on payment processor BitPay to manage the bitcoin wallets and currency conversion.
"We have customers across the U.S., in over 30 states. We're dealing with small and medium sized municipalities – cities, towns, townships, villages, and counties, and we provide web solutions for them," adds Felix. Marquee client examples for the web solutions provider include municipalities like Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Skokie, Ill.
For now, a municipality has to step forward and ask E-Gov Link to enable bitcoin payments – which is peculiar because other payment methods are not selectively disabled.
It would be far more interesting for these local governments to make it known to citizens that the bitcoin payment choice is an option. Still, the offering from E-Gov Link is a major step in that direction because bitcoin first has to be a viable option for the local government. Whether bitcoin demand is merchant-driven or consumer-driven, one thing is clear. Greater merchant choices and new payment categories contribute to the increasing value of the Bitcoin network.
Payments to government entities stand as one of the primary economic lynchpins for the preferred monetary unit. The obligation of the political authority to accept tax payments in government fiat currency is what underlies its value. While this E-Gov Link move does not cover tax payments demanded in a particular monetary unit, it can be seen as a precursor to a political authority expressing a preference for payments in a digital currency.
Jon Matonis is an e-money researcher and crypto economist focused on expanding the circulation of nonpolitical digital currencies. His career has included senior posts at Sumitomo Bank, Visa, VeriSign, and Hushmail. Currently, he serves on the board of the Bitcoin Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @jonmatonis.