While many nature seekers come to Yellowstone National Park for the serenity, they also don’t want to be without cell phone service. In 2009, park administrators pledged to minimize cell phone access in “backcountry areas,” according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune. However, new signal coverage maps for two of the five towers within the park show that calls “can now be received in large swaths of Yellowstone’s interior.”
The wireless and telecommunications management plan of 2009 noted that coverage “would not be promoted or available along park roads outside developed areas, or promoted or available in any of the backcountry,” The Tribune reported, with park officials stating that cell phone service would not be allowed “in the vast majority of Yellowstone.” Now, according to maps obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), once out of service places like Lamar Valley, are now receiving service. PEER is an advocacy group that reportedly has fought against telecommunications infrastructure within the park.
“The ability to disconnect, the serenity value of that, is a park resource that they’ve given away without a thought,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, told the The Tribune. “They have ceded the telecommunications programs to the companies.”
Yellowstone technology chief Bret De Young told The Tribune that even though some cell signals have spilled over to backcountry areas, the maps, released under a public records request, “exaggerated the quality of coverage in parts of the park.” De Young said that it is not the park’s intent to cover backcountry areas and “the park is taking steps to limit cell service as much as possible to developed areas.” Two of the five towers within the park use modern antennas, with a third to be converted this fall, according to The Tribune. De Young told the news site that the antenna conversion will allow providers to keep up with technology while limiting unintentional coverage areas. He said that Yellowstone “will continue to limit cellular service to developed areas to the extent possible.”
The U.S. House may disagree, passing the Public Lands Telecommunications Act last week to encourage cell and broadband service in national parks and public lands. The Tribune noted that the act imposes rental fees on telecommunications companies with towers and structures on public lands, but the monies would be used by the U.S. Interior and Agriculture Departments to “obtain additional communication sites and take other steps to foster greater coverage.”