Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wireless in National Parks

Maybe it's the below-zero temperatures outside that has me thinking about getting away to somewhere else. In preparation for the warmer travel season, I have been working on updating our map and cell tower information in US National Parks. Several years ago the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) noted the proliferation of cell sites in National Parks. We watched their reports and followed as much progress of wireless in the parks as time would allow.

In the years since, there has been much discussion about individual cell sites in specific locations, all considered on a case-by-case basis. My concern was that some "rule" would come about either banning wireless or conversely, encourage wireless across the entire National Park System. After watching this for almost 3 years, it appears it has been handled at the local level in a thoughtful manner with opportunities for public input. The only Park Service "rule" was to seriously consider all applications for wireless services.

The most thorough review was conducted by Yellowstone National Park. That report recommended some areas could use more wireless service, and others needed to disguise existing facilities. That process has been followed in other federal areas each with their own discussion on the issues involved.

The point was raised that the wireless carriers aren't really trying to serve a few hikers in a park, but more of the areas with a large number of visitors, or users who might use lots of wireless air time such as full-time residents of these parks and adjacent areas. "Safety" has not been much of a documented justification of wireless in these areas, but "convenience" certainly is. People have survived the National Parks for decades without cellular service.

We support wireless in our parks, but only in those areas where there are already well-developed facilities. As was pointed out, hikers prefer a silent cell site in an inconspicuous location to a motor home equipped with generator, entertainment devices and all the other trappings people feel the need to bring with them when 'getting away'. Just keep your phone on "silent" and your voice on "whisper"...please.

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