Expand Cellular Coverage in National Parks and other Public Lands?

A friend recently sent a link to an article – As Cell Service Expands, National Parks Become Digital Battlegrounds. He was leaning in favor of wider cell service in National Parks because of the improved safety aspect and people wanting to use mobile apps for things like checking weather or altitude, and recording GPS info. He did acknowledge that lack of cell service does help unwind from everyday cluttered life.

Some day this discussion may not matter as technology changes. But for now, here are some of my back-and-forth thoughts about cell service and a bit about National Park visitation.

It’s definitely an interesting issue. I think I’m ok with having cell service in the really populated areas like the valley in Yosemite or the main villages in Yellowstone. I’m good with not having cell service in Wilderness areas, and probably prefer it. I know people are starting to expect cell service everywhere without thinking, but I don’t think the National Park Service and others need to cater to that.

“Expanded cellular and broadband coverage, they argue, helps rescue teams respond to emergencies and are necessary to draw a new generation to the parks.”

I don’t think there is any problem drawing a new generation to the parks. I think National Park visitation has been really going up. They have plenty of visitors. The safety aspect is definitely a valid factor.

I like John Muir’s quote at the beginning and the philosophy of unplugging. “Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods”. If you haven’t heard of it, you might want to look up the “3 day effect”. Some studies have shown there is a real, positive psychological effect after being in the backcountry for 3 or more days in a row. That’s something I feel I’ve noticed as well. I feel different after 3 days, like normal everyday concerns and stresses have gone far enough back that they aren’t there at all anymore. I think 4 days is even a little better.

Also, there is the Wilderness Act, which says –

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

You can maybe interpret that different ways regarding cell service. Cell service already reaches plenty of Wilderness areas and it’s not really feasible to try setting border or something. But you certainly can’t build a cell tower in a Wilderness area.

However there are services from satellites of course, which basically cover the Earth. And there may eventually be something similar to cell service which does the same thing, whether from satellites or high altitude aircraft or something. So technology will probably advance to bring the same services to basically blanket the Earth one way or another. It would then take a big effort if that were to hypothetically be limited and not available in some areas.

Good to know about some things in the article I didn’t know about, like all the specific situations. I found something on visitation with some graphs and good info- https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-national-parks-have-never-been-more-popular/

I guess you could argue that per-capita visitation has not gone up (mentioned in my link above). Per-capita is how you would want to measure things if you want to be fair to people. But the problem with that is that the experience changes hugely with more people (especially backcountry visitation) and you don’t want the land resources to have to handle an increasing number of people. They have trail and backcountry campsite quotas in popular places for good reasons. There is a certain point where it’s enough or too much for each area.

Back to cell-service expansion, I found another great bit of back-and-forth here as well – https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/vbga53/do-wi-fi-and-cell-service-belong-in-our-national-parks

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