The Student Conservation Association's Online Community
Here's an interesting article about improving mobile connectivity and speed in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The fiber optic line would be the result of a private partnership and follows the expansion of cellphone and WiFi at national parks in the US and Canada.
The pros: improved safety through easier communication between first responders, reduced printing costs if maps & brochures are available on your phone, and mobile apps that allow visitors to connect with the resource in new ways.
The cons: more distractions for visitors and a backlog of infrastructure projects that also need attention.
What do you think? Is there a place for technology in national parks and other protected areas? What about the private partnership element of this plan? What kind of role should private corporations play in managing our national parks?
Those are all really great questions and I don't believe there's a simple answer to any of them. There are few grand places in this country that have little to no wifi/cell service (past the visitor center). I think it is extremely important to preserve the traditions associated with a lack of technology. People are so 'plugged in' in their daily lives that it's important to have places where one can unplug (whether you spend 5 mins wishing that you could upload your newest photo or not). I know that the only time I can get my step son off of his phone/computer is when we go camping. It's important for our family to connect to nature instead of the internet.
Would it improve safety within the park? Of course. But, I think that having the safety net of cell service increases irresponsibility. People tend to be more careful if they're aware that help isn't just a phone call away. All of that money that was saved on brochures would be multiplied exponentially on rescue costs for people that hastily called for help when it wasn't necessary. Also, on the subject of brochures, even if there was the ability to access park maps via the internet, the brochures would not be done away with. The information needs to be available for everyone within the park whether they have a phone or not. Also, they're a collectors item. I know we save ours and reference them each time we plan a return trip.
In short, there's a lot of complex cons when it comes to wifi/cell service in parks that don't have it. There's one great pro. Every family is different, but most people I've spoken to go to the NPs/NFs to unplug and to be around people who are unplugged. Most National Parks have a town just outside the boundaries- McDonalds always serves wifi. They don't serve a connection to nature.
Just my 2 cents :) Feel free to retort.