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Our National Parks and Cell Phone Coverage is a National Disgrace!!!

July 31, 2010

in Mobility, Skype + VoIP

National Parks are some of America’s most important assets. Some are quite off the beaten track… others are more accessible. All are spectacular in their own way. All of them seem to SUCK for cell phone coverage. What was your experience this summer? Did you just put up with it too?

In the last few weeks I’ve been at Crater Lake, Lava Beds, and Lassen. I’ve also visited Pinnacles and Death Valley this year. In all, AT&T coverage was “no service”. At times in some of these I found I had picked up a text message. Phone calls – forget about it. I’m not sure if this is a serenity moment or policy coming from the National Parks. Or simply more of AT&T’s – not a business there approach.

I’ve met and seen many foreigners traveling around these parks. I’m sure they wonder why are we in the US are so backward? You can do a quick search of Google and quickly find that coverage SUCKS in our National Parks.  Then there is the problem of how do you feel? I feel disconnected. I lament that while I am looking at a historical site in India I can google and wikipedia it and find out information. Yet in my own National Parks I can’t do the same. My iPhone is my guide when traveling and it’s effectively dead – at least for real-time activities.

If you breakdown in one of these wonderful parks…. forget pulling out the cellphone. Hope for a good Samaritan. My driveshaft didn’t go in one of these parks but I’d have soon gone through the water supplies I was carrying if it had. We are programmed to rely on mobile today to call for help. No coverage in National Parks is a safety risk and adds unnecessary danger. My mobile provides GPS coordinates. However doesn’t help the rescue if there is no coverage. That adds to search costs which can quickly escalate.

I shouldn’t mention the vacation versus working thing. Yet many of us today need to stay somewhat connected. Are our parks so crowded that we must send people out to find a connection? Why is it that beautiful new looking Headquarters like the one at Lava Beds doesn’t have either a cellphone capablity or even WiFI? I understand that cell towers have to earn their keep and yet each of these parks must have more than enough people going through them to warrant coverage.

I think the time has come where National Parks should have coverage. For tourism, for national dignity, for general efficiency and just enabling new forms of enjoyment. AR – augmented reality in National Parks. More re photo sharing etc. These are actually areas where new technology can be brought in – not to spoil rather to enhance everyone’s enjoyment. It’ crazy that I can’t download the GoogleMap while in the park. Or see a satellite view of the terrain.

Government / National Parks. – If your policies are thwarting or stopping the development of effective mobile coverage in national parks SHAME ON YOU. If your policies are not demanding that AT&T and Verizon provide service then SHAME ON YOU. At a minimum add some WiFi into the various visitor centers. (BTW I did find some WiFi at Furnace Creek in Death Valley although that is contracted out).

AT&T / Verizon et al.
There is no good business reason not to be in these parks. You tell me about your national coverage and maps. It’s all BS from my experience. My travels have convinced me that you don’t work for the better good, aren’t interested in providing a universal service or even helping small rural towns stay connected. Data coverage is also a laugh – well no laughing matter. Edge or GPRS may or maynot deliver my emails. You don’t want me safe or secure as a customer, you don’t care if I am lost or broken down. You aren’t looking at my life and adapting for how my expectation have changed, or my behaviors. I could work in these backwoods for ages – if I had coverage.

My conclusion is the overall policy framework for mobile is totally messed up. There are areas that we must have coverage in. It’s in the national interest – as in how we project to the rest of the world. I’m sure if you visit New Zealand you will find at least some coverage at all their National Parks. Their rates are crazy but that’s a separate problem. I know the US is backwards in mobile. We don’t lead the world. Yet a mobile phone and and access to SMS really almost everywhere is a reasonable expectation today.

What’s I’d like is for the FCC to tell me a story about our National Parks, how and when they will get coverage and how regulations and government departments can make it happen. If AT&T won’t provide it then I suggest we need the regulation to force it. If govt departments are in the way then I suggest AT&T start making noises about how to fix it and similarly how to take mobile to small rural village America. Communications is the lifeblood of a nation not just a few large cities where our networks also under perform — dropping calls, slow on data etc.

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  • K2readone

    I was wondering if this was posted in jest or as a parody because it is really hilarious!

    Oh no, what would your life be like if we had to resort to ancient ways before every person had a cell phone? I mean it would be like 1995! How could we ever survive a national park circa 1995? This thought makes me tremble it is so scary! How dare the WILDerness be wild! We should add concrete paving to all trails also, because unpaved trails are dangerous! And why are there almost no fast food restaurants in national parks? What a backward country we have.

  • Yes, there may be good reasons for going off the grid. However, few smart explorers today would go far off the grid alone without some sort of GPS locator device. Response time is what matters if an accident happens. As for all the new options that good coverage can bring….. I won’t even bother to comment as you know my position already. There are many ways the smartphone can bring a national park to life in ways that make it more engaging, interesting etc. These devices can also be put to good use for protecting the parks, managing areas and access, lowering costs, engaging volunteers etc. As for paving trails…. well the less visited parks are usually the better ones.

  • Del Ann

    My 24 y/o nephew was killed in a motorcycle accident in a national park in California. He did not die instantly, he had a broken back and tried using his cell phone, 18 times, to call 911. He died two days later. The Search and Rescue crews told us that we were “lucky” to have recovered his body. Most missing people are never found in our National Parks system.
    If the smallest amount of emergency services coverage was available, there is a possibility my nephew would still be alive.
    9-1-1 should be MANDATORY accessability. How many families have suffered because of the lack of coverage leading to the loss of a loved one.

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