Washington, DC — Yellowstone National Park will soon be blanketed with coverage from cell phone towers, wireless internet service, and two-way radio, as well as television and AM/FM radio signals under a plan being written behind closed doors by the telecommunications industry and park officials, according to agency records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The March 31, 2005 meeting had representatives from Sprint, Verizon, Qwest, Western Wireless (now Alltel) and other companies conferring with Yellowstone park officials and concessionaires. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a “Wireless Telecommunications Plan” for the park. The companies urged siting more cell phone towers (the park already has six in five locations), installing broadband wireless internet service and microwave transmitters. Meeting notes by one park official state that “up to 10 entities could provide service in the park.”
“Notably, not one park official seems the least concerned that they are sacrificing peace and quiet, the ability to be truly alone and disconnected from the modern world,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has been drawing attention to the proliferation of cell towers throughout the park system. “Yellowstone belongs to the American people, who ought to have some say before it is transformed into a giant cybercafé.”
PEER is charging that the meeting violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act which requires public notice, published agendas and the chance for the public to attend whenever outside groups are assembled to help shape official policy. The group, which obtained the minutes and notes under the Freedom of Information Act, is asking the Interior Department Inspector General to review the matter and identify the officials responsible for the violations.
Significantly, the Park Service has a history of routinely ignoring public notice requirements prior to approving erection of cell towers. For example, Yellowstone illegally approved a tower overlooking Old Faithful without the required public notice. Last year, park officials had the tower shortened by 20 feet because its size violated the illegally issued permit conditions.
“The public should be involved at the earliest stages in shaping this policy before the final product is pre-decided and shoved down everyone’s throat,” Ruch added, noting that the final wireless policy is supposed to be unveiled in 2008. “While we are glad the park wants to plan rather than approve each new facility on a piecemeal basis, there is a difference between planning with all the stakeholders in the room and plotting in seclusion with only those who have a financial stake in the outcome.”
Currently, only one of the 390 units in the national park system has a telecommunications plan. The National Park Service still does not have a complete inventory of existing towers in its parks nor does it track new tower proposals. The agency also lacks any policy that protects wild or backcountry areas from electronic penetration.