The National Park Service is selling out to telecom giants

There aren’t many places people can go these days to escape completely from the ubiquitous influence of social media, smartphones, Big Tech and telecom companies. The blank spots on the coverage maps are constantly shrinking, though not equally, and not everywhere. In many cases, the expansion of broadband coverage is necessary; telecom providers too often underserve rural areas, tribal nations and Black and Latino communities, for instance. Their exclusion from reliable coverage has a negative impact on everything from local economies to public health.

The United States is struggling to remedy these inequities. At the same time, there are also spaces — national parks, wilderness areas and other public lands — that some believe should remain refuges from the digital world. Such places provide a final opportunity to preserve small pockets of smartphone-free open space in the United States — landscapes where you can still escape the electronic handcuffs. But they are beginning to disappear.

The telecom giants — AT&T, Verizon and more — are pushing to build out infrastructure on protected public lands across the country. These corporations hope to extend their reach into some of the most iconic and remote corners of the United States. And they have found a close collaborator in the federal government, which is working alongside industry operatives to open many national parks and other public lands to commercial wireless service. With a sprawling network of cell towers soon to be installed within its boundaries, Grand Teton National Park is a testing ground.

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