As part of its upcoming 2016 centennial, the National Park Service has embraced an industry-sponsored initiative which would change the way many visitors experience national parks. These plans to significantly expand cellular and internet “connectivity” inside parks have advanced without public notice.
The National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA), which represents concessionaires who operate park lodges, stores and other commercial outlets, is leading the effort to dramatically increase visitor access to cell and internet signals inside parks – signals from the concessionaires, that is. Under a plan called “Go Digital,” Park Service leadership is working with NPHA to –
- Provide internet access “at all major, developed visitor areas in the national park system” and “basic cell phone service at all major visitor areas in national park units, as well as along most roads and at major sites such as trailheads;”
- “Deliver timely, park-focused information within national parks through smart phones, tablets and computers…to deliver interpretation … to park visitors;” and
- In order be “financially sustainable,” NPHA wants “the opportunity to develop and operate these systems” and charge fees for services beyond free “landing pages.” [Emphasis added]
The Park Service contends expanded connectivity is needed to reclaim its “relevance” with millennials. Signifying that belief, it has unveiled a centennial logo featuring a hashtag. By contrast, the U.S. Forest Service has an ad campaign urging visitors to unplug and “Reconnect with Nature.”
Thus, the national park system is on the verge of both wiring large portions of the system and corporatizing interpretation by allowing concessionaires to take over and charge visitors for it.
As plans to expand cell coverage proceed, we look at implications in two areas –