In preparation for the National Park Service's 100th birthday in 2016, a published Call to Action included an initiative to go digital. This includes creating educational programs for cell phones and tablets, plus more robust information on park websites. According to TakePart.com, "just the opposite message is coming out of the U.S. Forest Service, which has been urging families to get off the grid and connect with nature."
Public Opinion on Internet Connectivity in the Park is Divided
Naturalists want Yellowstone to remain untouched by technology. This is what Yellowstone Park officials had in mind when they published the 2009 plan for wireless communications. The plan dictates that cell phone and wifi will only be allowed for visitor safety and to enhance park operations. It restricts towers, antennas, and wireless services to a few limited locations in the park, in order to protect park resources and limit the impact on park visitors. The communications plan also outlined the relocation of existing towers and antennas to restore natural views.
On the other side of the debate is a public that is increasingly connected with GPS, interactive maps, cell phone park tours, and social media. Vacationers want to "check in" at tourist destinations and instantly publish their bison photos to Facebook. There is also a business reason for more connectivity. It is not unusual for a concessionaire or tour operator to use manual credit card impression devices when a cell phone scanner would be more efficient.
Fiber Optics at Old Faithful?
Further fanning the fires of controversy, Park officials are in preliminary discussions with CenturyLink about installing a $34 million fiber-optic line through neighboring Grand Teton National Park and into Yellowstone. Some question whether this is the best use of money while there is a backlog of road repairs and maintenance to park structures. It will be a wait-and-see to whether CenturyLink will back off of asking the Park to foot part of the bill for their commercial venture.
In the meantime, PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) has started a petition to stop the parks from being wired.
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