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Wilderness Wi-Fi? Canada's national parks are going wireless

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By Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer
Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 7:52 PM

Update: Parks Canada has clarified exactly what their plan is for adding WiFi to national parks and historic areas. Rather than attempting to put hotspots in back woods areas, this is only going to be those parts of the where people will benefit from the service most. 

“What we’re trying to do is have it around the spots where people can write a digital postcard home, where they could in the morning pick up and take their digital subscription and read the newspaper when they’re around the campground,” Parks Canada representative Andrew Campbell told CTV's Power Play on Tuesday.

For those of us looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a short time, but don't want to give up all the perks of our urban lifestyle, Parks Canada will soon have us covered. 

According to the Canadian Press, sometime this year, as many as 50 different national parks and historic sites across the country should have WiFi hotspots installed, and as many as three times that number are expected to be online over the next three years. 

The federal agency is only now putting the call out for contractors to make this happen, but how does one go about advancing a vast expanse of Canadian wilderness by over 500 years (without cutting it all down and building condos)?

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If these were simply being installed in the facilities near the entrance to the park, or maybe at campgrounds that are already outfitted with AC power, it wouldn't require anything special. Just plug it in, set it up and everyone's online. However, with your standard WiFi router signal extending only around 100 meters, that's not going to do anyone going into the deep woods any good. There's always the option of laying down power cables. The campgrounds at Lake Louise, Alta., for example, have electrified fences that carry 7,000 volts of electricity, to discourage bears from getting too close to the campers. However, installing enough cable through the parks to make the WiFi truly useful would be expensive and time- consuming, not to mention a big disruption to the local flora and fauna. 

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To achieve the minimum overall cost while avoiding damage to the local ecosystem, it might make more sense to use clean energy methods to supply just enough power to run each WiFi station. Hooking each of them up to either a small solar panel or a small wind turbine (or both), could work. This would make the electricity weather-dependent, but having a battery backup or the solar or wind power set up to keep a battery charged, would help avoid any loss of coverage due to clouds or calm winds. The only problem then would likely come from local wildlife attempting to use them as perches or nesting sites, and damaging them in the process. 

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There's certainly going to be mixed feelings about this. The whole idea may seem strange, given that people typically visit these parts of the country to get away from it all. However, we can't deny that more and more, people like to stay in touch, even when they're on vacation. Adding this option for parks has the potential to increase attendance, and attendance means more money to maintain the parks and keep them open and available for all. 

Also, there's a potential safety benefit from the plan. Once it's put into place, gone will be the days when someone gets lost or injured in the back woods, unable to get a signal on their cellphone to call for help. 

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Leave your opinion in the comments below!

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