Communications

Lawmakers push for Wi-Fi access at all national parks

Stylized radio tower

A group of House Democrats is pushing for President Barack Obama to significantly increase funding for Wi-Fi and cell phone service throughout America's national parks.

The group of five, led by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), applauded the National Parks Service for its commitment to expand connectivity at visitors' centers in parks. But the group also wants access points deeper into the wilds of parks, and to serve nearby communities.

In the letter, the legislators also pointed out many national parks are in some of the most rural and remote areas of the country, and that improving wireless service at parks could give these areas a boost as well.

 "When appropriately designed, improved telecommunications services at park units can have the ancillary benefit of improving connectivity in neighboring communities," the lawmakers wrote.Generally speaking, the director of the National Parks Service, Jon Jarvis, supports the availability of Wi-Fi in developed areas of national parks. A NPS spokesperson told FCW the agency has established criteria for bringing Wi-Fi to parks, including existing IT support staff for installation and maintenance, the ability to pay for a local broadband circuit that is accessible outside of the NPS network and Wi-Fi gear must be acquired using Information Resource Office funds.

There are 409 parks in the national park system, and some of the larger parks already have increased wireless service. At Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, cell phone service is available in over 50 percent of the park. Cell phones have intermittent reception at Lake Mead near Las Vegas. They are also working towards expanding Wi-Fi access for the public safety purposes. The buildout of Wi-Fi at visitor centers is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2016.

"I'm not suggesting -- nor do I think it's appropriate -- that you have wireless connectivity on the Colorado River as you go down the Grand Canyon. But if you're on the south rim and you're sitting on the deck of the El Tovar Hotel, then I think it's perfectly appropriate that you might have wireless connectivity or at least be able to access your Facebook page and upload your photos," Jarvis has said in previous commentary on the issue.

Obama's budget is slated to go to Congress Feb. 9.

Correction: This article was updated to indicate that Jared Huffman represents California in the House.

About the Author

Bianca Spinosa is an Editorial Fellow at FCW.

Spinosa covers a variety of federal technology news for FCW including workforce development, women in tech, and the intersection of start-ups and agencies. Prior to joining FCW, she was a TV journalist for more than six years, reporting local news in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Spinosa is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Writing at George Mason University, where she also teaches composition. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Click here for previous articles by Spinosa, or connect with her on Twitter: @BSpinosa.


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