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Washington, DC June 20, 2017 – Most every corner of Yellowstone National Park will have strong 4G cell coverage under a multi-site expansion entering its final approval phase, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). New commercial structures would sheath four Yellowstone sites, and would transform scenic Mt. Washburn, the park’s highest point, into a hulking telecommunications bunker bristling with antennas and featuring two large vaults.
Despite repeated promises to limit cell coverage to developed areas of the park and prevent spillover into Yellowstone’s backcountry, a new coverage map shows that antennas from just one site (Mt. Washburn) beam strong signals over much of the park. The park has four other cellular sites (and would add a new sixth site), meaning that even in its most secluded retreats, visitors who are Verizon or AT&T subscribers will be able to email, text, stream movies, download music, and engage in online gaming.
“Pursuit of bigger bandwidth puts Yellowstone on a never-ending cellular treadmill,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that in 2009 Yellowstone adopted a cellular masterplan that the park has already discarded, embracing an expansion that dwarfs the earlier plan. “Yellowstone’s custodians are doing more to service smartphones than to fix its crumbling infrastructure.”
This spring the park put this plan out for environmental review but had to reopen comments to consider adverse impacts of new towers, dishes and antennas on historic structures and view-sheds, including:
- Mt. Washburn’s fire lookout, one of the park’s most scenic vistas, is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places but this plan would encircle it with new microwave dishes covered by vaults and surrounded by new lattices and antennae;
- The Old Faithful cell tower would be supplied with increased bandwidth for voice and data. The tower remains clearly visible from much of the Old Faithful Historic District, despite the Park’s 2009 promise to relocate the structure to a less intrusive spot; and
- A new 95-foot cell tower would be constructed at Canyon, and another new tower constructed at Fishing Bridge to support a microwave antenna.
The reopened public comment period ends this Thursday, June 22nd.
New cell tower proposals are also being considered at Washington’s Mt. Rainier National Park and Wyoming’s Grand Teton, among other big nature parks. These plans cite both visitor expectations and nebulous claims of increased safety from expanded commercial cell coverage as justifications.
“There is little evidence that increased cell coverage increases safety but there is ample evidence that drivers on poorly lit, winding park roads distracted by their devices are a hazard,” added Ruch, noting that parks will not consider 911-only signals because there is no profit for commercial operators. “By acceding to industry pressure for more coverage, park superintendents are wiring their wild lands with little thought toward preserving the values that make these cathedrals of nature so special.”