Backcountry Spillover

Yellowstone repeatedly stresses that it wants to limit cell coverage to “developed areas” and avoid extending coverage into the backcountry.  The Park, however, does not take affirmative steps to prevent spillover.  

Can You Hear Me Now? This old map showing that
much of Yellowstone has cell coverage is outdated
and does not reflect the new tower at
Lake/Fishing Bridge Coverage Map.

The latest tower at Lake/Fishing Bridge is a good example of a tower supposedly designed to provide cell coverage only to the developed area around Lake Village but sends signals deep into the backcountry.

In preparing a story about the Lake tower, a Wall Street Journal reporter sent a November 5, 2013 e-mail asking for a cell coverage map of Yellowstone.  An hour later, she sent this question: 

Also, it’s accurate to say that much of the park is currently a dead zone, right?” 

Yellowstone’s Bret DeYoung e-mailed back –

  • Stating “… a comprehensive coverage map for all carriers is not something the NPS provides at this time.” 
  • Declining to answer the question about whether most of the park is a dead zone.  Instead, he ends his e-mail with: 

“In our park newspaper we state that ‘cell coverage is limited, please check with your provider for coverage.’”

  • Forwarding a copy of the map from the Wireless Plan’s 2009 FONSI – a map which by this point significantly underestimates existing coverage, even without the Lake tower. Tellingly, DeYoung had the new coverage maps for Lake from Verizon but decided not to pass them on to the reporter in early November.

The reason for this dissembling is simple: the Park Service has largely ceded decisions about backcountry and the serenity values of its natural areas to commercial cellular providers.  These providers, in turn, brag about the breadth of coverage and absence of dead zones in their advertisements to attract news subscribers.