More Pros and Cons of Wi-Fi in National Parks
Editor's Note: The following opinion piece appeared on the website www.traildirt.com.
It was bound to happen sooner than later. The National Park Service, in conjunction with the National Park Hospitality Association, is going to upgrade five parks with increased Wi-Fi and cellular service at entrance stations, visitor centers, main roadways, and lodges. If all goes well, the upgrade will continue with other parks as the budget and other conditions allow.
There are positive reasons for this boosted service, my favorite being that the park service and its concessionaires can communicate park information via the Wi-Fi signal without having to hand out as many printed materials. Also, the National Park Service can now provide up-to-the-minute news on road and trail conditions, events and weather, instead of having to rely on something printed months or even years earlier. That is great.
The part I’m not very crazy about is that the park and its concessionaires get free advertising on the signal, and other businesses that may be in gateway towns or outside of the park boundaries may face an unfair advantage when it comes to equal time on the people’s airwaves. It makes competition for services a little lopsided, in my opinion.
Another downside could be abuse of increased cellular service in the event of search and rescue scenarios. As referenced by a mountain guide (in another article linked to the website), there is a great likelihood of people taking chances on trails they shouldn’t take because they can now call in a rescue if needed.
I don’t care for that logic, and people that actually think that their cell phone will save them have no business being out on a back country trail at all. News stories abound of people following map apps on their smart phones and getting lost or killed from trying to follow bad routes. People that let their phone think for them don’t need to be out in the wilderness. But that’s just me. The cell signal isn’t necessary in deep wilderness. There are now satellite devices that can create a connection via Bluetooth through an app on a smartphone, so if people really want to stay connected, the technology is out there.
I think that the “visitor information” Wi-Fi signal and its service requirements should probably be put out through a federal bidding process so a non-involved third party provider can create and update the service, and even sell advertising to all businesses that rely on the park, not just the concessionaires within park boundaries, so all businesses have a chance to be competitive.
The National Park Service should seriously consider the ramifications of providing a Wi-Fi signal in conjunction with the big concessionaires. If they were going to provide the signal, it should only be for current park information and interpretive discussion about some of the park’s more interesting highlights.
Either that, or the signal provided by the National Park Service has to be completely free – as in, people can go on it and look at anything on the Internet they want. But I can’t imagine that being allowed if the service will be provided by the NPS and the National Park Hospitality Association. It’s only fair that the service should be put out to bid and managed by a third-party provider.