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How Much Cell Phone Coverage Does Yellowstone Need?


    Should you be able to gab on your cell phone no matter where in Yellowstone you are? Do you need WiFi coverage in the park's lodges and restaurants? Those are tough questions for some, no brainers for others.
    In the coming weeks, Yellowstone officials will be seeking public comment into those questions with meetings in Idaho Falls, Idaho, (tonight at the Best Western Cotton Tree Inn from 6 to 8), in Bozeman, Montana, (tomorrow night at the Comfort Inn, same time), and in Cody, Wyoming, (August 15th at the Park County Courthouse, same time). Written comments will be accepted through August 31st via mail, in person, or at this web site.
    The friendly folks at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility are convinced Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis already has made up her mind on this issue, and will side with more cell phone and wireless coverage in the park.
    I'm curious to learn how many folks out there think this is a good idea?

    As I noted earlier this month, more cell-phone access could lead to more reductions in the ranks of park rangers and the national park experience itself, as Park Service officials in Washington looking to cut costs team with private interests to provide interpretation via cell phone.
    Too, there's always the issue of solitude, which long has been a hallmark of national parks. Many folks think cell-phone use in this country is becoming incredibly rude. Some restaurants ban it, most theaters do, and there are concerns that one day soon you'll be able to talk your head off from take-off to landing on your cross-country airline flight. Do we need it in a park's backcountry?
    On top of that, you could argue that cell phones and WiFi access will detract from a national park visit by serving as distractions. We already worry that our younger generations are becoming more and more detached from nature, and if we give kids more electronic devices to occupy themselves with during a national park trip, what will we have accomplished in trying to reverse this disconcerting trend?
    Two-thirds of Yellowstone already is covered by cell phone towers. Do we need more?
    Take a stand on this issue folks. As the saying goes, those who show up make the rules. If it can be done in Yellowstone, what national park will be able to keep out 100 percent cell phone and WiFi coverage?



I'm not sure this can be kept out. I agree that cell service should be restricted in National Parks, even though some will protest they need them for an emergency. I am afraid this battle should have been won back when the vendors brought in their stinking mules, helicopters and airplanes. There are too many people who only care about having a Disney World visit to the wilderness.

For those who don't want cellular distractions use the on/off switch. Place your phone in the bottom of your pack and when an emergency arises be thankful to have such a communication tool. We don't need more government regulation telling us how to live our lives. Additionally this technology may give some visitors the confidence to venture into the backcountry that may otherwise have avoided the opportunity. As a recreation professional I encourage the limited use of technology for security. As a former National Park Dispatcher I think it is imperative that we utilize technology to save lives.

In reponse to Bill Rush's comments, this isn't a matter of more or less government regulation. It's a question of how accomodating the NPS needs to be. NPS has the power to keep cell towers out of parks but only if it does proactive planning of sensitive areas and other sites in the park where placement of towers would violate park values in some ways. Yellowstone appears to be taking this to an extreme and inviting them in. I think that's unfortunate. For as goes Yellowstone, so goes the NPS. Both rangers and visitors did just fine without cell towers for a long time. Yes, response time may be slower. That's OK; it's a legitimate tradeoff for parks remaining the last of the few really different, authentic places left in the US. --JLongstreet, NPS superintendent

I wonder if its possible to add cell technology to the existing infrastructure of the park. I doubt anyone wants to see cell towers pop-up all over the Yellowstone landscape, but there is already a significant human footprint that should be considered. I am sure that current park communication involves use of "walkie-talkie" type radio technology which relies on radio towers and repeaters. Why not attach cell technology to these existing towers? Combine that with cell technology added inconspicuously to existing building rooftops and existing power poles and I'm sure there would be enough coverage to satisfy Chatty Cathy without harming view corridors within the park. Yellowstone made a mistake when they invited cell companies in to talk without informing the public. Secret meetings suggest the park knows they are treading on thin ice with public opinion.

I'm a well connected computer programmer with cell phone, data plan, broadband internet, laptop etc. I enjoy the outdoors and camp almost half the summer, and everytime I camp I leave my cell phone in the truck and don't touch it until I'm coming home. I would love to see a sign on all roads leading into Yellowstone (or any park) that would say "Turn off your cell phones, they won't work in this park." Is Yellowstone going to lose tourism revenue because of this? Probably not. Is Yellowstone going to lose leasing revenue or whatever from losing contracts with the cellphone companies? I don't know. If so where is that money going to come from. It sounds like dubya and his cronies won't help with this anytime soon. So it is a double edged sword. To have budget money to upkeep the park and keep it's solitude, it may have to give into money that would come from such things as cell phones, wifi etc.

Future jury trial: Backpacker gets into trouble in the area of Yellowstone without cell phone coverage. He is eventually rescued but the delay in rescue means that he suffers more serious injuries than he would have with better communications. Backpacker sues. The case goes to a jury. Jury hears that Yellowstone rejected better cell phone coverage even though it could have been installed. Would the Park Service be found liable? With todays runaway jury awards, it's something the Park Service has to think about. Will the Park Service have to post signs in the backcountry saying that "from Point A to Point B there is no cell phone service, so BEWARE". More issues are created than just aesthetic ones.

Preservation of the resource (which includes the "viewshed") is part and parcel of the National Park Service's mission. That should mean that foreign objects, like cell phone towers, have no place within a given park's boundaries. What's next, a new name for Yellowstone? Perhaps Verizon Geyser National Park?

I think that Wi-Fi access in buildings is a great idea, and can't imagine why anyone would have a problem with it if it is privately funded. If you don't want to check your e-mail while staying in a National Park lodge, you don't have to. Just because someone might be an internet-addict doesn't mean that the National Park Service should take responsibility for weaning that person off computers during a visit to Yellowstone. As for cell phones, I think the real question should be whether or not we should permit cell phone towers to be constructed at the edges of designated wilderness areas (they are prohibited within those areas), with the intent of providing service coverage into those areas. The truth of the matter is that there is no single standard for what constitutes preservation of a "natural" space. The natural spaces of Yellowstone have already been corrupted in the minds of some by the construction of lodges and paved roads. Thus, I think a reasonable standard is to permit cell phone coverage in "developed Parks" and to consider ensuring that designated wilderness areas, such as North Cascades National Park, remain cell phone free. ~Sabattis

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