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Yellowstone to improve telecom systems in developed areas

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North Entrance sunset after a winter storm. NPS PHOTO / Jacob W. Frank

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. – The National Park Service signed a Finding of No Significant Impact for an environmental assessment to improve telecommunications systems in the developed areas of Yellowstone National Park. The FONSI was approved in 2021. Although the environmental review process was completed last year, the park continued to evaluate other impacts and needs of this significant project prior to implementation.

The selected action described in the FONSI allows for the installation of 187 miles of fiber optic cable in previously disturbed areas along park roads. Work by the applicant, Diamond Communications LLC, is not authorized to begin until a right-of-way permit is approved and issued. The park is evaluating issuance of a ROW permit this year and, if approved, work would begin in the spring of 2023.

The park’s existing microwave radio system was originally installed between 1979-1990. Telecommunications and data services carried on the system are highly unreliable and do not adequately support the park’s needs for emergency communications, operations and other forms of communications. The telecommunications services provider repaired the current system a total of 66 times in 2021.

Installation of fiber along the road corridor will enable the park to remove antiquated and obsolete telecommunications equipment including five reflector panels and 20 antennas located on numerous mountaintops and backcountry sites, while substantially improving the connection speeds needed for management and operations of the park.

The park encouraged public comment on this project in October 2020 and March 2021 and received 288 pieces of correspondence. All substantive comments received during the comment periods were considered during the decision process. Park responses to comments can be found on Page 12 of the FONSI.

Additional project details include:

  • Telecommunication systems can be considered a utility and like other utilities are authorized on NPS lands using the ROW permit process.
  • About 8 percent of the park is currently covered by cellular service which is intended to provide service only in developed areas and not along roadways or in the backcountry.
  • There is no plan to expand authorized cellular coverage beyond existing coverage areas.
  • Fiber will allow for a better quality of service within existing coverage areas.
  • This project is consistent with Yellowstone National Park’s Wireless Communications Services Plan that was completed through an EA in 2009.
  • Plans are proceeding to relocate cell towers from ridgetops to less visible sites in developed areas at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs.
  • No new cellular towers will be installed under this project.
  • The applicant will pay for all up-front construction costs.
  • Most of the fiber optic cable will be buried in 1.25-inch conduit along park roadways.

Benefits to NPS staff, partners and visitors include:

  • Improved telephone, cellular phone, park computer networks and broadband internet services to meet critical park operations, safety and emergency services and visitor information needs and expectations in developed areas.

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