Yellowstone Seeks Comment on Telecommunications Proposal

Environmental assessment proposes replacing park's aging system with underground fiber optic line

By Associated Press

BILLINGS — Officials at Yellowstone National Park are seeking public comment on an environmental assessment to consider replacing the park’s aging telecommunication system with an underground fiber optic line.

Public comment, which will be accepted through April 21, is expected to analyze whether to grant New Jersey-based Diamond Communications a permit to use the park’s right of way to bury the cable, the Billings Gazette reported. The installation would cause temporary traffic delays extending from April to November for three years.

“The existing telecommunications infrastructure within the park offers very limited capacity, has little redundancy, and is unreliable,” the assessment said. “The existing infrastructure routinely reaches capacity and is overwhelmed with data requests throughout the season, and once the existing network is overwhelmed, operations that depend on the data network become impossible to perform.”

The park currently relies on large outdated microwave antennas built atop mountains that bounce signals across the park, officials said. The communication links have been at capacity since 2009.

“The current microwave radio network leaves many areas of the park vulnerable to being isolated from all telecommunications including 9-1-1, telephone, cellular communications, emergency services radio, and data,” the assessment said. That had occurred three times in the last five years, the report said.

Park officials are now proposing building the underground fiber optic line with cables that would run along 187 miles (300 kilometers) of the park, tying together developed areas and administrative offices.

The proposal would not expand cellular phone coverage areas in the park, but would improve coverage quality in existing developed areas. No new cellular towers would be installed under this proposal; however, the assessment notes that removing the towers could “lead to requests by service providers to construct cell towers in developed areas or to add equipment to existing infrastructure.”

The park will make a final decision about the proposal following the public comment period.