POWELL — A year ago, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly was just arriving in the park. Shortly after unpacking he quickly began calling for improved connectivity.
With the future of the park including a phone in almost every visitor’s and employee’s pocket, Sholly promised better wireless internet access — without towers blocking the view to the park’s famous landscape.
Now, the park is seeking public comment on a proposal from a private company, AccessParks, to install up to 484 small (10 by 10 inch, or 7-inch diameter) antennas on employee housing and visitor lodging facilities at Canyon Village, Grant Village, Lake Village, Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful. Several dozen other antennas of various sizes would also be required to link to internet providers outside the park without building additional towers.
AccessParks says that boosting internet access in national parks can result in longer stays, more exploring and can help create more park advocates.
“We believe that by addressing the need for predictable, quality internet in remote lodging, RV parks and campgrounds, we are helping more people experience the outdoors we love, for longer periods of time, and with the untethered freedom of exploring confidently,” AccessParks says on its website.
While some visitors will be happy to have a better Wi-Fi connection, Sholly said his main priority is employees in the park.
“Providing connectivity to visitors is secondary to providing connectivity to the 3,000 to 4,000 Yellowstone National Park and concession employees — many of whom live and work in remote parts of the park,” Sholly said, adding, “Lack of connectivity is regularly cited as a major concern by employees and their families, and is unquestionably a major recruitment and retention issue.”
Visitors to the park would also benefit with expanded service areas and faster speed.
“Keep in mind that we already have Wi-Fi (and associated infrastructure) in many areas, it’s just very, very slow,” Sholly said in an email.
Administrators at Yellowstone regularly hear from visitors wishing the popular vacation destination had better Wi-Fi in visitor centers and hotels.
“The upgrades and technology proposed here would make a major difference to employees and visitors,” Sholly said. “We’re committed to expanding connectivity but in a way that doesn’t damage resources, scenic or otherwise, and takes best advantage of existing infrastructure.”
The new wireless equipment would be installed on existing structures in developed areas. Two microwave antennas would be added on an existing antenna support structure on Mount Washburn to deliver service to developed areas, but solely for employee use. Coverage would eventually be extended to other developed areas such as Norris, Madison and Bechler.
Exterior antennas would be located in areas to minimize visibility, the Park Service says. Where visible, installations would be painted to match the buildings and many of the antennas on historic properties would be located in attic spaces or under eaves. There is no plan to build towers or provide service in backcountry areas.
The deadline to comment on the proposal is Friday, Nov. 29. Comments may be submitted online at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/ap, by hand delivery, or by mail to Compliance Office, Attention: Access Parks Broadband Proposal, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 82190.