Weigh in on Wi-Fi for Yellowstone

Posted 11/19/19

In Wyoming, we know what it means to be unplugged. If you drive in any direction, you’ll find beautiful backcountry where there’s no cellphone reception, much less a Wi-Fi …

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Weigh in on Wi-Fi for Yellowstone


In Wyoming, we know what it means to be unplugged. If you drive in any direction, you’ll find beautiful backcountry where there’s no cellphone reception, much less a Wi-Fi connection.

One of those places is Yellowstone National Park. For many of the millions of travelers who visit the park, being truly unplugged is a foreign experience. We believe that’s a good thing — it’s healthy to take a break from social media and to not be in constant contact with work while on vacation.

But under a new proposal, Yellowstone could become much more connected to the outside world. The proposal calls for adding indoor Wi-Fi networks to developed areas of Yellowstone “for the benefit of park visitors and employees.”

To accomplish this, crews would install up to 484 small antennas on employee housing and visitor lodging facilities at Canyon Village, Grant Village, Lake Village, Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful. Another 39 larger antennas also would be installed, including a 6-foot antenna at an existing tower at Old Faithful. That means more than 500 antennas could be installed at developed areas around Yellowstone.

However, no new towers would be added under the proposal from AccessParks, the Wi-Fi service provider requesting the permit. It’s also important to note that no antennas or towers would be installed in backcountry areas or provide service to such areas; the proposal only covers developed areas that generally already offer some form of cell service.

In announcing the proposal, the National Park Service said “many of the antennas on National Register of Historic Places eligible structures would be located in attic spaces or under eaves.”

We appreciate the effort to keep antennas hidden, though we suspect their effects would be quite visible. It’s likely many visitors would be glued to their phones, as is the case in many public spaces today, such as restaurants, airports and waiting rooms.

One of the special things about Yellowstone is how rustic and unplugged it remains — an experience that coaxes people to have real conversations, which doesn’t often happen when you’re preoccupied by a screen.

When Yellowstone posted the proposal on its social media pages last week, many balked at the idea of providing Wi-Fi at more areas in the park. Of course, most of the commenters were using a Wi-Fi signal to post their opposition to the proposal, but many of them argued things should be different in Yellowstone.

“Watching people read books, play cards or just sitting and enjoying the music around the main lobby at the Old Faithful Inn is something that will disappear once people can be connected to their phones,” wrote one commenter.

The park generally offers a nostalgic experience when so many of today’s interactions involve technology.

While we would like to see Yellowstone stay unplugged, we also can see the benefits of better Wi-Fi service for employees who live in the park. Those connections would help them stay in touch with loved ones and pay bills online.

A seasonal employee who has worked in the park for six years wrote that if Wi-Fi was available, she would continue to hike, fish and camp in the backcountry.

“I would still connect to the park in every way that I enjoy already,” she wrote. “[It’d] just be nice to be able to send a text to my mother over a 1,000 miles away from home rather than having to drive two hours to the nearest town.”

It’s certainly much more difficult to stay unplugged when you’re in the park for months at a time, as many are. During peak summer season, more than 3,000 people work in Yellowstone.

Over the next couple of weeks, the National Park Service will collect comments on the Wi-Fi proposal, and it’s important for the public to use this opportunity to weigh in. After all, Yellowstone was established “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” For some, connecting to the internet would make the park more enjoyable — while others of us believe it’s beneficial for Yellowstone to stay as rustic and wild as possible.