As cell phones, iPods and laptops creep steadily into every corner of modern life, America's national parks have stayed largely off the digital grid, among the last remaining outposts of ringtone-free human solitude.
That may soon change.
Under pressure from telecommunications companies and a
growing number of park visitors who feel adrift without mobile-phone
reception, the airwaves in such grand getaway destinations as
Yellowstone National Park may soon be abuzz with new wireless signals.
Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, consider recent
requests to install new telecommunications towers or upgrade existing
Wireless supporters say more is at stake than the
convenience of casual phone conversations. Cellular providers say new
wireless infrastructure will boost public safety by improving
communications among park rangers and emergency responders.
They argue that the ability to download smartphone
applications that can deliver instant information on plants and animals
will also enrich park visitors' experiences.
"Our customers are telling us that having access to
technology will enhance their visit to wild areas," said Bob Kelley,
spokesman for Verizon Wireless, which is seeking to install a new
100-foot cell tower at Yellowstone.
Rural communities that border the national parks also stand to benefit from enlarged cellular coverage areas.
On the other side of the debate, outdoor enthusiasts
worry that bastions of quiet reflection could be transformed into noisy
hubs where visitors yak on cell phones and fidget with electronic
tablets, detracting from the ambience of such natural wonders as
Yellowstone's celebrated geyser Old Faithful.