A small handful of days before the National Park Service announced that its maintenance backlog had crept up to nearly $12 billion, five congressmen called for more funding for Internet connectivity in the National Park System. But here's the rub: Can the National Park Service easily provide that service if told to provide it? The experts don't think so.
Wiring places like Grand Canyon National Park, Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park does not happen as quickly or inexpensively as calling your local Internet Service Provider in, say, Chicago or New York or Kansas City and asking to have the service turned out. Many national parks are relatively remote from major fiber optics systems and phone service that can handle the additional load. Another issue is the harsh weather some parks endure in the winter and, in the case of Death Valley National Park, the summer.
Peter Jarich, vice president and wireless network infrastructure analyst at research firm Current Analysis, says all those issues can make it challenging for the Park Service to wire the park system. And then there's also the need to make the Wi-Fi infrastructure unobtrusive.
“You don’t want to detract from the reason why people are coming to the park in terms of beauty, so there’s going to have to be some level of disguising,” he told FedTech Magazine.
The question of whether to provide greater connectivity in the National Park System can generate stalwart proponents...and opponents. Back in 2009 officials in Yellowstone adopted a Wi-Fi and cellphone plan, something that led Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility to dub the efforts "a disturbing stealth scheme to wire our national park system."
PEER launched a petition drive with hopes of landing 15,000 signatures on a letter asking Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to halt Wi-Fi plans in the park system, saying that "(V)isitors come to national parks in search of serenity and unspoiled vistas, but the proliferation of cell phone towers throughout our park system makes it increasingly difficult to escape the electronic tendrils of society and commune with nature while someone next to you is jabbering on a cell phone, receiving texts, or watching videos."
However, just 2,045 people signed the petition, far below the 15,000-signature goal.