Plans to test expanded cellphone and Internet service in the National Park System appear to have been scrapped due, apparently, to a lack of interest.
It was just more than a year ago that National Park Service officials said they would, at the request of the National Parks Hospitality Association, test greatly expanded cellphone and Internet service at five to 10 units as part of a pilot program to see if visitors want that service and if the Park Service can both cut costs and provide more immediate information.
However, when John Wessels, then director of the agency's Intermountain Office, quit the Service last August, no one stepped into his shoes to shepherd the project forward.
"I have confirmed that no further action on this project has been taken since our response to your earlier FOIA request on this issue in May of 2013," Charis Wilson, the Park Service's FOIA officer, said Thursday in an email to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which had sought the information. "Former Intermountain Regional Director John Wessels was the person who was going to work with NPHA on this project and no one has taken it over since he left the National Park Service in August 2013."
As envisioned by the NPHA, which represents park concessionaires, expanded Wi-Fi could possibly be a money-maker for concessionires, as they could charge a fee for access to service beyond a basic tier that links users to the park's website.
When the pilot program was announced in January 2013, PEER officials called the plan "a giant step toward ‘Disney-fying’ park interpretation, replacing rangers with corporate icons as your guides."
"Solitude values of parks will go by the board, as lodges, tents, trailheads and other park locations become just another place to fiddle with electronic devices," Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director, said at the time.