Glacier National Park Plans on Expanding Cell, Radio Service

Glacier National Park promises to increase cell phone and radio coverage in a plan that would add more cell towers. The plan aims to deliver basic connectivity in developed areas of the park.

by Chris Peterson, Hungry Horse News / February 28, 2020

(TNS) — Glacier National Park has released a scoping plan that would greatly increase cell phone coverage in the park and add several more towers.

According to a draft document released earlier this week, the Park eyes “Two Medicine, Many Glacier, Rising Sun, and Lake McDonald Lodge developed areas as appropriate locations for commercial telecommunications infrastructure, including cellular, microwave, or other technologies.”

Currently, depending a person’s cell phone plan, coverage is very limited in Glacier. It typically stops around Lake McDonald Lodge on the west side and it spotty on the east side. Verizon has better coverage on the east side, AT&T has virtually none.

Cell phones do currently pick up signals in some backcountry locations, however. Mountain peaks can often get a signal, and Granite Park Chalet has cell phone coverage.

But a tower in Two Medicine and Many Glacier, for example, has the potential to greatly expand backcountry service up into the valleys.

The plan aims to “provide for basic connectivity (e.g. cellular and/or data) for non-governmental use in developed areas while preserving the ability to experience park resources and values,” it claims.

Glacier also proposes to expand its radio repeaters. Park staff and rangers typically use radios, not cell phones, for backcountry and frontcountry communications. That system can also be unreliable, with several dead areas in the park’s mountainous terrain.

To that end, the park proposes to:

  • Install microwave links at Many Glacier, Two Medicine, East Glacier, and possibly Huckleberry Lookout; a satellite Internet system at Logan Pass; Voice over Internet Protocol phones at the Polebridge Ranger Station; and a Local Area Network at the Walton Ranger Station
  • Install fiber optic cable to the Fish Creek Ranger Station and other areas
  • Add radio repeaters to existing communications sites at Chief Mountain. Port of Entry, Goat Haunt Ranger Station, Mount Hefty in the North Fork outside the park, the Loop (Going-to-the-Sun Road), Elk Mountain, and possibly other backcountry areas such as Belly River, Nyack, Two Medicine, Mount Brown. In addition, the park would move one repeater to the existing communications site on Apgar Mountain and install temporary repeaters as needed for non-emergency projects.

Equipment would likely be installed by private companies.

“The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the Park Service to consider applications from commercial providers who propose installing telecommunications infrastructure on park lands. If the park receives such requests, the early establishment of parameters for the placement of infrastructure, coverage areas, and other factors would inform the evaluation of applications and, if permits are approved, ensure the protection of park resources,” the document states.

©2020 the Hungry Horse News (Columbia Falls, Mont.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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