Expanded Cellular Coverage in Yellowstone

In its approval document (known as a FONSI, for “Finding of No Significant Impact”) for the Wireless Plan was the following statement:

The purpose and need of the Wireless Plan/EA is, first and foremost, to protect park resources and values by limiting the types and locations of wireless services and infrastructure.” FONSI, p. 21

The accompanying Press Release (April 2009) stated: 

The plan restricts towers, antennas, and wireless services to a few limited locations in the park, in order to protect park resources and limit the impact on park visitors… No cell phone service will be allowed in the vast majority of Yellowstone."

While this new plan is couched in terms of a “limited increase” to “protect part resources,” Yellowstone's cellular footprint has steadily expanded since the plan was adopted, as noted by the Park's own publications:

Spring 2010 Yellowstone Today, p. 14:  “Cell phone service may be available in the Mammoth, Old Faithful, and Grant developed areas.” 

Yellowstone Summer 2014, p. 1:  “Cell phone service may be available in the developed areas at Canyon, Grant, Lake, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, Tower, and the North and West entrances.”

How big of an expansion?  It does not appear to a topic of interest to Yellowstone officials: In November 2013 a Wall Street Journal reporter, who was researching an article on the newly-constructed cell tower at Lake, asked Park officials how much coverage existed in the Park.  They responded that “… a comprehensive coverage map for all carriers is not something the NPS provides at this time.”  We believe that this reluctance to produce a coverage map is rooted in the fear that it would show that the statement that the “vast majority” of Yellowstone does not have cellular service is simply false.

Beyond cell coverage, the plan actually opens the door to any wireless structures or applications not explicitly prohibited by law, including:

  • Wireless web cameras would be allowed in all “developed areas of the park” and could be placed in the backcountry for unspecified “resource monitoring or…safety concerns.” and

It seems clear that Yellowstone has embraced the brave new world of broad connectivity without much reservation.