NPS Plans to Increase Cell Service in Parks

Plan would bring high-speed connections to all parks by 2018.
Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley, where T-Mobile customers will soon have service. (Photo by John Colby/Flickr)

With the National Park Service's centennial approaching, park officials say they want to bring new technology to the parks—including adding cell coverage and Wi-Fi to parks like Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

NPS Associate CIO Shane Compton said the park service is developing a plan that would bring high-speed connections to all national parks by 2018.

“We are looking to help people to pick up their own signal when they are there with their mobile device,” Compton said.

At the same time, the NPS has just revealed that T-Mobile customers will soon have coverage in Yosemite Valley, which currently only supports AT&T and Verizon.

However, plans to increase cell coverage in the parks have sparked controversy in the past. In 2013, Yellowstone constructed a 100-foot Verizon cell tower, creating a divide between those who thought increased cell usage would enhance their experience at the park, and those who thought service would hinder it.

But the NPS says adding cell towers and Wi-Fi could help visitors learn more about their parks. By increasing bandwidth while simultaneously adding more historical and cultural online content, they hope visitors will want to learn more about the lands (through photos, text or maps) on their phones while there.

“We are asking the parks, our regions to come up with why you think WiFi might actually be better for the customer experience,” Compton explained. “It may not be a better customer experience to hike out in the backcountry, but if you are in a visitors’ center or looking at monument, that is where that might be beneficial.”