For Immediate Release: Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Contact: Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
More Than 500 New Antennas Slated for Yellowstone
Formerly Off-Limits Historic Buildings to Be Honeycombed with Wi-Fi
Washington, DC — Yellowstone National Park has reached a crossroads in connectivity under a new proposal open for comment until the day after Thanksgiving, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The new plan would provide Wi-Fi connections in the park’s developed areas but would supplement rather than replace the park’s network of seven cell towers now sending signals across two-thirds of the park, including much of its backcountry.
A company called AccessParks is in the final stage of approval for a right-of-way to install 523 antennas on historic lodges (including the iconic Old Faithful Inn), visitor centers, and other buildings to bring broadband throughout most of the park’s developed areas. While the company’s website declares “Retain Nature’s Beauty: Cell towers are ugly, and cellular wireless is useless for Broadband,” the plan would not replace any cell towers but would add hundreds of antennas, including a 6-foot diameter antenna on an existing microwave tower at Old Faithful.
The comments PEER filed today point out that the AccessParks plan would –
- Violate the park’s existing Wireless Plan that promises no Wi-Fi in historic buildings or lodges, yet 400 of the impacted buildings are National Historic Landmarks, within historic districts, or are eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places;
- Extend to areas where the Wireless Plan now bans coverage; and
- Be finalized without environmental review, consultation required by the National Historic Preservation Act, or any further public review. AccessParks is also withholding most photo simulations and equipment specifications on grounds that they reveal trade secrets.
“Park managers see Yellowstone’s future as a telecommunications hub at the expense of its historic values,” stated PEER Pacific Director Jeff Ruch, noting the AccessParks claim that “Visitors stay longer when they can connect with friends, family and work when needed, without frustration.” “Yellowstone managers apparently believe that its vistas, geysers, and wildlife are no longer sufficient visitor draws without a high-speed broadband experience, as well.”
In addition to supposedly shielding historic places from internet connectivity, the park’s Wireless Plan approved in 2009 promised several mitigations (including cell and WiFi-free zones, courtesy signage, limiting backcountry spillover, and moving an unsightly cell tower overlooking Old Faithful), but none of those measures have been implemented. Similarly, the AccessParks plan hints that it contemplates significant future add-ons.
“Wi-Fi in the developed areas eliminates the rationale for a network of cell towers spilling signals into Yellowstone’s remote backcountry – so, do one or the other, not both,” added Ruch, pointing to Yellowstone’s 2018 closure of its most popular hiking destination, Mt. Washburn, to accommodate Verizon and other companies’ expansion plans. “To our knowledge, Yellowstone has yet to say ‘no’ to any telecom projects, and it is poised to say ‘yes’ to this one, too.”
Apart from its burgeoning wireless infrastructure, Yellowstone has a maintenance backlog of needed road, sewer, and other work in excess of $1 billion, a deficit larger than any other park.