Glacier National Park officials have OK’d a sweeping range of improvements to cell and internet service within the park, but have no plans to implement anything yet.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work that would have to take place for adding cellular or internet service in developed areas, and we have no plan for service in wilderness areas,” Glacier Park spokeswoman Gina Kerzman said on Tuesday. “We have no plans, no timelines, no nothing.”
The Comprehensive Telecommunications plan for Glacier National Park received a “finding of no significant impact” in December and was announced on Jan. 5. It has two sections: improvements to the internal park staff communications network and a strategy for future commercial cell and internet service could be authorized.
Sarah Lundstrom at the National Parks Conservation Association said the plan would have benefited from more advance discussion. The possibility of adding more commercial telecommunications to a place where many visitors come specifically to disconnect from the outside world concerns many people.
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“It skipped over ‘should they?’ and went to ‘where should they?’” Lundstrom said. “That was disappointing.”
The plan envisions phone service upgrades, better internet speed and access, greater file-sharing capability, remote access to digital security systems, and improved radio communications for the National Park Service staff. Those capabilities would not be available to the general public.
It will affect infrastructure at Many Glacier, Two Medicine, East Glacier, St. Mary, Chief Mountain Port of Entry, Logan Pass Visitor Center, the Loop on the Going to the Sun Road, ranger stations at Polebridge, Walton and Goat Haunt, and Apgar Mountain.
It may add radio repeater sites inside the park’s recommended wilderness including Elk Mountain near Marias Pass, Belly River, Nyack and Mount Brown. The repeaters would have a small equipment shed, a 20-foot antenna mast and solar panels for power. An existing repeater at Looking Glass Hill between East Glacier and Two Medicine might be upgraded or moved to a new location outside the park boundary.
Commercial communications service, if approved, would be enhanced at developed areas including Many Glacier, Rising Sun, Two Medicine and Lake McDonald Lodge. The plan states no commercial infrastructure will be permitted in Glacier’s backcountry or recommended wilderness areas. Nor will it be available along park roads outside the developed areas. Where signal spillover might occur, the plan calls for providers to limit their service as much as technologically feasible.
Planners considered, but did not adopt, suggestions to limit the upgrades only to NPS staff needs, to add cell service to all park frontcountry campgrounds, to add phone service to the two chalets at Granite Park and Sperry and to add pay phones at parking lots instead of cell service.