Limited Courtesy Signage


Since the Wireless Committee unilaterally rejected “cellphone-free zones” in 2010, one would think that they would make a special effort to inform visitors about cellular “courtesy.”  But let’s look at what has happened:

The “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) for Wireless Plan states:  “Courtesy signing and protocols will be developed and installed to help guide visitors in use of cell phones and other portable communications technologies.” (p. 4)

In July 2010, the Wireless Committee discussed courtesy signage, and decided to order 50 signs for the park.  A few months later, when the order took place, it was for just 25 signs.  But just seven of the signs have been installed to date (four at Old Faithful boardwalk entrances and three at Mammoth Hot Springs).  That's all:  seven small, easy-to-miss signs in two areas of the park.  No signs have been installed in the Lake area, or at Canyon, or at Tower or anywhere else in the park 

The message on the signs is important, too.  The signs that were posted in 2012 read: 

“Enjoy Yellowstone’s natural sounds, please turn off your cell phone.” 

Early in 2014, an NPS employee objected to the wording of the signs because they “inhibit the overall ability to provide information to the public."   Signage wording has now been changed to “As a courtesy to others, please silence your mobile device while enjoying Yellowstone’s natural features.” 

It is not at all clear that telling people to “silence” their cell phones meet the Wireless Plan’s goal of reducing the “annoyances of cell phone usage.”  Ring tones, no doubt, are one of the annoyances of cell phone use in a natural area, but only one.  Thousands of businesses, theaters, sports venues, and other locations ask visitors to minimize (or forgo altogether) use of their phones (as phones).  Why not Yellowstone? 

Regardless of wording, however, it is important to know whether these small signs are being seen by visitors, or having any effect on them.  In July 2010, the Wireless Committee noted that “… Interpretation staff… agreed to start monitoring the effect of the signs on visitor actions.” We have been able to uncover any evidence that monitoring of visitor behavior has taken place.    

In addition, the Wireless Plan itself requires the “wireless communications provider” to “fund outreach projects to educate visitors in adhering to these protocols.” (p. 29) As of June 2014, no such outreach projects had been funded

In summary, too few “cellular courtesy” signs have been posted and the message on them is ambiguous. Moreover, the Park appears to have little interest in determining whether the signs actually affect visitor behavior and even less interest in engaging the wireless companies to fund efforts for educating visitors about consideration for others when using their devices.  In short, Yellowstone’s invocation of “cellular courtesy” has simply been a pretext to rationalize more cell coverage.