Yellowstone Proposes Expanding Cell Phone Coverage: Readers, Should National Parks Be Cell Phone Free Zones?

old faithful photo

Old Faithful photo: Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

OK TreeHugger readers, confession time. How many of you bring your cellphone with you when you go hiking, or whatever you do when you want to get out into nature? I confess that I do it—if only because it was already in my bag and I don’t want to leave it behind to get stolen—but I don’t actually use it when I’m out in the woods, even if there is a signal. For me it’s part of getting away from pretty much anything that needs a battery and into the woods. But everyone is different and some people have to check the Crackberry no matter where they are... The essential question is: Is the telecommunications grid compatible with the wilderness experience?

That is the question being considered in Yellowstone National Park. The LA Times has got a complete rundown of the arguments for and against, but this is the gist of it:
Backcountry Areas Still Would Not Have Service
In September, Yellowstone officials proposed a plan to expand cell phone coverage in areas of the park which already have service (one more tower would be built), and to install WiFi in the park’s hotels (which don’t have television by the way). There would be no expansion of phone service into backcountry areas.

In favor of the plan: Wireless internet access in the hotels is different than TV in that the internet has a greater potential educational aspect. The phone service expansion would only be in areas which are developed, so when you’re in the backcountry you still are off the grid.

For the con position I’ll quote Tim Stevens of the National Parks Conservation Association:

When people come to Yellowstone, it’s one of the most special times of their lives. One of the things that makes it that is the ability to hear the splash of a geyser . . . and not having that sound drowned out by somebody having a conversation with their family back in New Jersey.

Just Because You Have Service Doesn’t Mean You Have to Use It
I’m of two minds on the question (again, this plan wouldn’t expand service into wilderness areas; so that aspect can be ignored for the moment):

1) Ignoring the natural beauty around you isn’t a function of having access to the phone or internet service per se; it’s a function of people’s addiction to their electronic devices. People talking loudly on their phone (whether on the train or in front of Old Faithful) is because they have poor behavior as much as because they have phone service. Tour groups ignoring the majesty before them and talking loudly amongst themselves happened before the cell phone existed and will happen if service doesn’t exist. That said...

2) Part of the reason it seems that people talk loudly on the phone, ignoring their surroundings is because they are disconnected from the situation surrounding them. Which is further enabled by having a phone to talk on, headphones to put on, etc. So perhaps not expanding service will help at least some visitors get in touch with what’s before them, the quiet moment which presumably they came to the park to enjoy.

So what do TreeHugger readers think about the compatibility of cellphone/internet access and Yellowstone (or whatever your favorite off the grid spot happens to be)?

Full story: LA Times
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