For Immediate Release: Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Contact: Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028; Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
Yellowstone Wi-Fi Plan Driven by Corporate Wishes
Trees Felled in Proposed Wilderness and Historic Landmarks Penetrated
Washington, DC — Yellowstone National Park has bent over backward – and then some – to accommodate a corporate Wi-Fi vendor, according to public comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Pushing for final approval during a pandemic, Yellowstone has reversed its own policies barring Wi-Fi inside historic buildings, excluded competitors from bidding, and even chain-sawed 100 trees to improve signal clarity.
Tomorrow marks the close of the comment period on permission for a company called AccessParks to install 484 antennas within and atop historic lodges (including the iconic Old Faithful Inn), visitor centers, and other buildings to bring broadband throughout most of the park’s developed areas. The plan also entails 39 large antennas and 12 new microwave dishes.
According to Yellowstone, the stated purpose is to “replace, improve, and expand existing Wi-Fi service provided to Xanterra Travel Collection restaurant and lodging patrons and employees.” However, the approval goes far beyond serving this one concessioner to authorize Wi-Fi in all parts of virtually every occupied structure in the park, including National Historic Landmarks.
Since first approached by this vendor in early 2018, Yellowstone officials have –
- Rescinded previous policy of either barring Wi-Fi in historic structures or establishing Wi-Fi-free zones within lodges to protect the historic ambiance for guests. Many of the structures affected are on the National Register of Historic Places or eligible to be;
- Ignored their own Wireless Committee’s 2020 recommendation that AccessParks begin with a pilot project to allow the Park “to adequately assess the performance and monitor the proper installation of equipment on high value public properties”; and
- Declined to include competing companies seeking to present their Wi-Fi proposals.
“The documents we have reviewed indicate that Yellowstone managers sacrificed policies protecting park resources to the preferences of a commercial vendor,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting that many key documents describing the plan were not posted by the Park but obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. “Judging by complaints from this company’s competitors, this process could have been far more open.”
One notable aspect of the lead-up to this proposal was the August 2019 removal of 100 trees, in a stand approximately 30 years old located in recommended wilderness, because they reduced signal strength from a passive reflector.
“Chain-sawing trees to improve wireless reception seems to clash with the very concept of what national parks are for,” added Ruch, pointing to growing adverse effects on park viewsheds, already marred by electronic clutter. “As the telecom footprint spreads, Yellowstone’s scenery is condemned to death by a thousand antennas and microwave dishes.”