WASHINGTON, DC, March 2, 2017 – Yellowstone National Park is pressing ahead with a massive commercial cellular expansion that breaks key laws and agency rules. Today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) asked the National Park Service (NPS) to review these violations, discipline the responsible officials, and take steps to ensure future compliance.
The multi-part project entails a more than a fifty-fold increase in bandwidth, bathing the park and much of its remote backcountry with 4G signals to enable video streaming, music downloads and online gaming. Planned work is so extensive that one of its most visited venues, Mount Washburn, will be closed to the public during construction. Today, the park extended public comment on the project through March 22nd.
“Yellowstone is going bandwidth bananas, as if one of the park’s principal purposes is to promote smartphones,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to the growing prevalence of smartphones as the driving factor for vastly expanding Yellowstone’s wireless footprint well beyond its 2008 park-wide plan. “Some of Yellowstone’s most scenic spots are being transformed into hideous hives of microwave and cellular arrays to accommodate perceived consumer demand.”
More than a dozen slated telecommunications augmentations include –
- A new 90-foot cell tower at Canyon (the park’s first “monopine”) and a new Verizon microwave tower at Lake, next to a tower that hosts a Qwest microwave dish;
- A new industrial “antenna support structure” at Mt. Washburn, wrapped around three sides of the historic fire lookout tower (which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places); and
- Facilities to support “increased bandwidth for voice and data” at Old Faithful.
These new facilities are being greenlighted without statutorily required environmental and historical preservation reviews. PEER also charges that the project violates NPS policies protecting scenery and soundscapes and flouts requirements for public notice and involvement.
Although Yellowstone has a billion-dollar maintenance backlog – the biggest infrastructure deficit of any national park – it is prioritizing investments in telecom, such as spending nearly a quarter-million dollars to bring Wi-Fi into the Old Faithful visitor center, over sewage upgrades and other basic needs.
As late as 2012, Yellowstone officials declared it had completed the last link in its cellphone system. That finality was short-lived, however. As 5G and even 6G devices now debut, the park finds itself on a technological treadmill, scrambling to bulk up its wireless capacity every time the network evolves.
“Yellowstone’s leadership has lost its way, sacrificing the possibility of solitude for signal strength,” added Ruch, noting that, of all people, national park officials are supposed to administer, not violate, laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. “National parks are supposed to allow us to momentarily escape the clutches of civilization rather than to enable commercial carriers to ceaselessly chase customers into the deepest reaches of nature’s cathedrals.”