The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is criticizing Yellowstone for what they feel is too much cellphone coverage.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, PEER, citing coverage maps obtained under a public records request, believes the Park has walked out on a 2009 pledge to “minimize cell phone access in backcountry areas.” PEER’s executive director Jeff Ruch told the Chronicle he believes Yellowstone officials “have ceded the telecommunications programs to the companies” and are giving up visitors’ “ability to disconnect.”
According to PEER, their maps show coverage is now available in vast swaths of the Park, including the Lamar Valley and some backcountry spots. PEER has fought for years against increasing Yellowstone’s telecommuncations infrastructure.
Some Yellowstone officials see it differently, however. From the Chronicle:
Yellowstone technology chief Bret De Young acknowledged the occurrence of “spillover” cellphone signals into backcountry areas, but suggested the coverage maps — released by the park to Ruch’s group under a public records request — exaggerated the quality of coverage in parts of the park.
In 2009, Yellowstone issued a wireless and telecommunications management plan that said cellphone coverage “would not be promoted or available along park roads outside developed areas, or promoted or available in any of the backcountry.”
“No cell phone service will be allowed in the vast majority of Yellowstone,” park officials said in a statement issued when the plan was adopted.
De Young said while it is not the intent to cover backcountry areas, the park is taking steps to limit cell service as much as possible to developed areas. That’s being done with the installation of more modern antennas that can direct signals more precisely.
Two of the park’s five cellphone towers now use those antennas, and De Young said a third is due to be converted this fall.
“This will allow the service providers to keep up with new phone technology while limiting unintentional coverage areas,” De Young said. The park service “will continue to limit cellular service to developed areas to the extent possible,” he said.
While PEER quibbles with and De Young downplays Yellowstone’s cellphone coverage, some are seeking to augment telecommuncations capabilities across the national park system. Indeed, according to the Chronicle, U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) has introduced a bill—the Public Lands Telecommunications Act—to foster greater coverage across properties in the Interior and Agriculture Departments. Huffman’s bill would also institute rental fees for telecommunications companies operating cell towers and similar infrastructure on public lands.