No Cell-Free Zones

In the “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) statement for the Wireless Plan, park officials created the concept of “cellphone-free zones”  in “response to comments” from the public.  Here’s what they wrote:

“… to reduce annoyances of cell phone usage, courtesy signing and protocols will focus on increasing the distance between visitors enjoying the natural soundscapes and those using cell phones by designating ‘cell phone free’ zones where possible.”

Although the park offered “cellphone-free zones” as a way to minimize adverse effects of cell coverage, to date not one has been created. 

The explanation for the gap between promising cell-free zones “where possible” and abandoning the idea altogether appears to lie in the opposition of a park staff member. According to the minutes of the park’s Wireless Committee February 10, 2010 meeting, the issue of cellphone-free zones was raised, and then dismissed:

“Bret [the Committee chairman] read a paragraph from FONSI regarding cell free zones, Dan stated that we don’t want cell free zones but cell courtesy zones because there are times that cell phones should be used, for example, emergencies or reporting damage to resources.”

With that one brief discussion, the Wireless Committee unilaterally amended the FONSI and rejected “cellphone-free zones.”  So, although it was the purpose of the Wireless Committee to implement the Wireless Plan, it instead altered it to deep-six a promised mitigation measure with no public notice, let alone consultation.

While the Wireless Committee could resurrect the provision creating “cellphone-free zones,” especially in
places such as Norris Geyser Basin which has no coverage now, it seems unlikely to do so. Our detailed examination of the record from repeated Freedom of Information Act requests does not reveal the topic ever being raised again.