The National Park Service (NPS) marks its centennial on August 26, 2016 and park officials are scrambling to bring new technology to its more than 400 parks including high-speed cell and WiFi service to such places as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. More than 275 million visitors enjoy America’s national parks annually.
“We are looking to help people to pick up their own signal when they are there with their mobile device,” NPS Associate CIO Shane Compton told Backpacker.com in an exclusive online interview. Compton said the park service is developing a plan that would bring high-speed connections to all national parks by the centennial.
At the same time, reports the online magazine, the NPS has just revealed that T-Mobile customers will soon have coverage in Yosemite Valley, which currently only supports AT&T and Verizon. Plans to increase cell coverage in the parks have reportedly sparked controversy in the past. In 2013, Yellowstone National Park constructed a 100-foot Verizon cell tower, creating a divide between those who thought increased cell usage would enhance their experience at the park, and those who thought service would hinder it. But the NPS now believes adding cell towers and WiFi could help visitors learn more about their parks. By increasing bandwidth while simultaneously adding more historical and cultural online content, they hope visitors will want to learn more about the lands (through photos, text or maps and apps) on their phones while there.
“We are asking the parks, our regions, to come up with why you think WiFi might actually be better for the customer experience,” Compton explained. “It may not be a better customer experience to hike out in the backcountry, but if you are in a visitors’ center or looking at monument, that is where that might be beneficial.”