Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone fiber-optic line installation on tap?

Yellowstone National Park officials are talking with CenturyLink about a new fiber-optic line running through the Park via Grand Teton National Park that would significantly upgrade bandwidth for visitors.

Currently there’s limited connectivity in the Park for visitors: WiFi is available for a fee in some hotel lobbies, and 3G/4G/LTE availability is limited to the five visitor villages, but even that coverage is spotty (try getting AT&T coverage in Canyon). Park officials have worked to keep connectivity limited despite visitor cries for better coverage, arguing that a true nature experience shouldn’t be marred by hordes of people glued to their phones.

But this is 2014, and many visitors — particularly those of the younger generation — expect a higher level of connectivity at all times, particularly at hotels. And while dodging folks glued to their smartphones isn’t something many of us want to experience at Old Faithful or Canyon Village, it may be the wave of the future. From AP:

Yet as wireless connectivity spreads into almost every corner of modern life, the social pressures to “whittle away” at the remaining technology-free refuges are immense, said James Katz, a professor and director of emerging media studies at Boston University.

Katz had a first-hand dose of those pressures this summer, when he traveled through Yellowstone with his teenage children. They hit all the main attractions: Old Faithful, Yellowstone Falls, roaming herds of wild bison.

Whenever connectivity dropped off, Katz said, the complaints from the teens would begin.

Of course, let us hasten to add that our experiences this summer with teens were the opposite: instead of missing Internet connectivity, our teens read more and interacting more with siblings in sharing tales of the Park.

Right now the talks are just that: talk. Park officials stress that they won’t put a dime into increased connectivity, which means that CenturyLink will need a financial plan to lay the line and have some decent rate of return on that investment. And you can bet any laying of fiber optic will be subject to a lot of review and comment.

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