For release
PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)

Commercial Cell Service Clashes with National Park Policies and Values-

Washington, DC — Calls to increase cellular and broadband coverage inside national parks are running up against policies to protect natural soundscapes, pristine vistas and serenity, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This month, these conflicts are reflected in plans to install a new 4-G capable cell tower right next to the largest tract of designated wilderness in North Dakota’s sole national park.

In a January 27, 2016 letter, five U.S. representatives asked President Obama to significantly increase federal funding for “wireline and wireless telecommunications and broadband services within our National Parks.” However, this request overlooks the basic fact that these are commercial services for paid subscribers; they are not amenities provided by the National Park Service (NPS) or supported with tax dollars. These wholly commercial platforms built inside our parks –

  • Run afoul of NPS policies and directives to preserve natural soundscapes and vistas and to promote qualities such as solitude that enable visitors to commune with nature;
  • Extend cell coverage into designated wilderness and backcountry. NPS officials are supposed to prevent this spillover but no park has asked a provider to limit coverage; and
  • Cede management decisions about virtually every aspect (placement, design and visual impact) of facilities inside of a park to a private company.

“National Park superintendents have shown little ability or inclination to protect park resources and values from the demands of telecom companies,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that wireless companies pick locations, choose the signal penetration and even determine the height and configuration of facilities. “The 4G arrays now being installed are designed to enable music downloads, streaming videos and online games – activities that prevent rather than promote communing with nature.”

In the process, Park Service policies to minimize these impacts are routinely ignored. The latest cell tower proposal in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park illustrates how virtually every NPS precept on design, spillover and even public notice is violated. Moreover, attempts by NPS Headquarters to coordinate wireless proposals to prevent signal interference are similarly ignored. Even when a park, such as Yellowstone, promises to mitigate adverse effects with measures such as cell-free zones and courtesy signage, there is little follow-through.

“National parks are under no legal obligation to provide visitors with commercial cell or broadband service – in fact, just the opposite when to do so requires sacrificing park values and resources,” added Ruch. “In this the National Park Service’s centennial year, a conversation about the role technology should play inside nature’s cathedrals is long overdue.”

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

8 Responses to WIRING NATIONAL PARKS CREATES CONFLICTS

  1. avatar cindy says:

    Isn’t the whole concept going to a Park is to visit with nature and reflect, to get away from tech. If someone must have tech connected to their hip then go elsewhere.

  2. avatar Nancy says:

    https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/09/16/are-cell-phones-ruining-our-social-skills/

    Thankfully I still live in a “cell phone” free zone here in Montana (although cell phone boosters are becoming the norm)

    But a local rancher (with a clear shot up my valley) is contemplating the loss of less than acre to put up a cell tower because $400 a month guaranteed income from a provider, is probably pretty inviting in addition to high cattle prices 🙂

    “Make hay while the sun shines”

  3. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    I was thinking about this just the other day. I thought that might be what was going to be unveiled for the centennial celebration, if I remember correctly? Rigging up Yellowstone to be more current with what the modern public may want. A big thumbs down.

  4. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    There’s got to be a place we can escape this stuff. There’s no such thing as ‘serenity’ or ‘quiet’ anywhere you go anymore. Always some kind of intrusion into peace.

    It’s also been shown to be dangerous – many times people are not paying attention to their surroundings, taking selfies with wild animals and being injured, and I will not stand by and watch another grizzly destroyed by a visitor not paying attention.

  5. avatar Kayla says:

    In today’s world, not only is the Thorofare, (in the headwaters of the Yellowstone River in the SE corner of Yellowstone NP), the furthest place from a road here in the lower 48 states. It is also still a place where it is beyond the reach of any cellphone towers. And those that visit this place must go without their beloved cellphones operating. I personally absolutely Love It! There are places where we Human Two Leggeds should be able to get away from all of this wireless crap. And to this day I refuse to have a cellphone. In fact how much have I learned to go without a phone or the need of one. This modern day world has gone mad in my opinion with all of this wireless technology. Hope the Parks stand firm against all these intrusions of all of these cellphone towers.

    And to end this … all of the old hunter-gatherer groups in my opinion had it right and had none of this wireless stuff but lived one with the natural Mother Earth like it should be.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Kayla,

      I am glad for this. I still love the place too.

      In wilderness you ought to be able to take risks simply because you can’t contact help easily.

      Central Idaho is another place where cell coverage is very spotty and it is not changing fast because of few people to serve and because the whole place is tall ridges and deep canyons.

  6. avatar Kyle says:

    This is a classic case of a solution looking for a problem – what exactly is lacking in the NPS system that would require such an inappropriate application of technology? It’s also the latest proposed handover of public goods to the private sector. No one has yet to explain why we must go there at all – what larger good is being served? Big Telecom is driven by an entirely different set of values, and they generally clash with those inherent in the NP system. Can the park system not be enjoyed without a data plan, or the ability to scroll through hundreds of advertisements? I don’t care one whit whether a visitor to the NP system can update their profile, play games, or catch up on their reality shows while waiting for the tour bus. And I don’t care whether cell towers can be made to look like a tree. One thing is obvious: if the tower goes in at TRNP a precedent will be set, the die will be cast. This is an issue which requires an unequivocal statement of opposition from the public.

  7. avatar Connie A.Reppe says:

    Dr. Maughan, Electomagnetic frequency (wavelength)spectrum for the normal human hearing range is 30-15,000Hz. Aero navigation, amateur bands, government & non-government, fixed and mobile is 890-3,000MHz. Super high frequency government and non-government, amateur bands, radio navigation is 3,000-30,000MHz(10-1cm) And along with exposure of gamma rays “believe you me,that even with sunscreen and glasses to protect from the sun’s glare, and an ever present uncivility, just wait it’s getting hotter” as to when and if-if a 4-G cell tower is constructed and erected that”thing-in-it-self” is an architectural pollution to the environment. As is the “unconcerned” consumer user of a “thing-in-it-self” a helping hand cellphone. Excess construction and noise pollution is an experience that is uncontrollable with an awareness that is irritating. Anyone, remember the day’s when a smile was a dial?

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