Can you hear me now?
Verizon Wireless wants an affirmative answer to that question if you're in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, and says it needs a cellphone tower possibly 80 feet tall in Kings Canyon to get it.
A short notice that ran in the Federal Register on April 1 says Verizon wants to locate the tower on Park Ridge near Grant Grove in Kings Canyon.
According to the notice, "Park Ridge is an established telecommunications site for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Current structures on Park Ridge include: two concrete block structures containing NPS and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) communications equipment with power generators; a 20-foot fire lookout tower; two 40-foot lattice towers with NPS and USFS telecommunications equipment; and a 30-foot tower on the NPS communications building supporting a passive reflector used for land-line service operated by Verizon California."
Of course, if Verizon receives approval to locate the tower there, and does indeed install one 80 feet tall, it would dwarf all those other facilities. Beyond that, though, is the question of whether there's a need or a desire for greater cellphone coverage in the two parks?
That, of course, is an aesthetic question as much a philosophical and even practical one. Ever since the world became "wired" it seems you can't leave home and get away from the rest of the world. Should you have cellphone coverage while hiking down a trail in a national park? Should you have to endure someone else yapping away on their phone in a national park setting?
Of course, it's nice to be reachable in an emergency or for business purposes. And where there's cellphone coverage, there's also some form of wireless Internet available as well.
But is this a safety issue, a commercial one, or one to better society in general? If it's a safety issue, how did society manage to survive all these years without cellphone coverage in the parks? And how would greater cell coverage in the parks better society?
Questions aside, it's now up to the staff at the two parks to evaluate the request under the "National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act, The Telecommunications Act of 1996, and National Park Service requirements, policy and regulations. Once completed the NEPA analysis including the effects, if any, on cultural resources will be available for public review."
You can send any comments you'd like the parks to consider to: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Planning and Compliance Office, 47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers, California 93271. Or you can email them to [email protected].