UPDATE Attempts to improve WiFi in Yellowstone National Park have left PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) members feeling like the park has been compromised, according to a recent release from the group. All national parks have to contend with the demands of visitor safety versus park integrity. In this case, there are concerns that AccessParks may have overreached itself in its zeal for a good cell phone connection.
“Chain-sawing trees to improve wireless reception seems to clash with the very concept of what national parks are for,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch. “As the telecom footprint spreads, Yellowstone’s scenery is condemned to death by a thousand antennas and microwave dishes.”
The comment refers to a proposal submitted in 2019, to remove 100 trees in a designated wilderness area. The 30-year-old stand of trees apparently diminished signal strength from a passive reflector. Ruch explained he found this information courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act, not from the vendor itself. “The documents we have reviewed indicate that Yellowstone managers sacrificed policies protecting park resources to the preferences of a commercial vendor,” he said.
Over the past few years, Yellowstone has been struggling with how much connectivity the park truly needs. Park officials have even gone back on some of their own rulings, thus alarming PEER. For example, an edict limiting WiFi access in some lodge areas that are on the historic registry, for guests promised a rustic experience, have been overridden by park officials working to accommodate AccessParks.
Yellowstone’s stated goal was to “replace, improve, and expand existing WiFi service provided to Xanterra Travel Collection restaurant and lodging patrons and employees.” However, AccessParks has proposed to install 484 antennas in and on historic lodges, visitor centers, and other locations to blanket the area with broadband. Plans also call for an additional 39 cell tower antennas and 12 new microwave dishes.
June 10, 2020 was the last date for public comments.
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