Claiming that the information was a trade secret, the company trying to bring Wi-Fi to the wilderness has kept the public in the dark about exactly how many antennas would be needed and where they would be located in Yellowstone National Park. Previously redacted drawings emerged only in the News&Guide article of June 3, reporting the National Park Service had asked the cell tower company, Access-Parks, to provide a scaled-down plan for wireless radiation in Yellowstone starting with Mammoth Hot Springs as a pilot. The company refused.

They insist that Wi-Fi service required almost 500 new antennas throughout the park, including 39 of about 3 to 6 feet in diameter at iconic places like Old Faithful, Canyon Village, Grant Village, Mammoth Hot Springs and Lake Village. Moreover, to ensure that these new antennas are not disruptive, most of them are to be hidden in attics and under eaves, painted to blend into building roofs and sides. Still, it’s hard to imagine how one can hide a 6-foot-diameter device.

So what’s driving this push toward Wi-Fi in the parks? Apparently, Xanterra, the park’s chief concession manager, recruits thousands of annual park employees who find their lack of Wi-Fi service problematic. The parks already have emergency response capabilities. So why should wireless access to Netflix and porn become an added capacity?

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What’s wrong with this picture? Yes, placing antennas under roofs and attics can keep them from public view, but this will not keep the bees, birds, plants and mitigating animals from unbalancing wireless radiation to which they have never before been exposed. Nor will it protect the employees living in dormitories just below these radiating rooftops.

Why should this matter?

What you can’t see can not only make you sick, it can sometimes kill you, especially if you are an insect, bird or plant. The disruptive nature and occasional lethality of wireless radiation has best been demonstrated in lower animals and plants, as detailed in the 13-page thoroughly referenced letter the Environmental Health Trust sent to the National Park Service last year. More recent studies have noted that all migrating animals rely on a cryptochrome — a tiny protein located behind the eye — to sense the earth’s magnetic field.

Ritz and co-workers (Nature, Vol. 429 May 13, 2004, pages 177-180) showed that robins navigate by orienting to the earth’s magnetic field. Their studies showed that a broad spectrum of frequencies including those in the wireless spectrum rendered the birds at a loss. These frequencies occur in most mobile telecommunications, including cell phones, DECT cordless phones and Wi-Fi. These devices may blot out “magnetic vision” and suddenly burst into life and/or be mobile; so as to give the birds continually conflicting navigational data. Many may find this disturbing, like being constantly bombarded from all directions by the flashing lights of a disco ball. We should not be too surprised to find that these birds may choose to leave the area altogether.

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Scientists who put DECT cordless phone base stations (cheap sources of modulated microwaves) next to their beehives found that they made the bees dance strangely, lay far fewer eggs and become less likely to return. Even when not in use, cellphones periodically emit bursts of radiation at full power so that they can update many apps at any one time.

Around the globe others are developing wired fiber-optic cable systems, already on the drawing boards for the parks, that provide connectivity in specific fixed locations. This could easily be provided to employee housing or other fixed locales with no added wireless exposures, faster speeds and more secure access.

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It is tempting to say that if you are coming to a national park for Wi-Fi, you are in the wrong place. We are living in unprecedented and tumultuous times, when massive urban protests are calling for renewing and restoring our social fabric. There is a growing literature indicating that kindness and mutuality are best experienced through direct human contact. Reliance on technology for education and entertainment makes it easier to dehumanize others and can undermine much-needed real, muddy, wonderful world experiences of our parks.

Dr. Devra Davis