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Published: Sun, October 08, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Google to Provide Puerto Rico With Cell Service Using Balloons

Google to Provide Puerto Rico With Cell Service Using Balloons

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to send a "connectivity team" to help restore communications in ravaged Puerto Rico.

Last Thursday, the Project Loon team at Alphabet's X division noted to Mashable that they were "working hard with the Puerto Rican authorities to see if there's a way for us to use Loon balloons to bring some emergency connectivity to the island during this time of need". "It is critical that we adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services".

Days after the agency pledged $77 million to fix communications on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, newly-reconfirmed FCC Chair Ajit Pai announced the creation of the Hurricane Recovery Task Force.

Project Loon works by relaying a signal beamed from a telecom partner on the ground through its network of balloons floating around 65,000 feet in the air, and then sending that signal down to people with cellphones. The island, home to almost 3.5 million people, remains crippled by the Category 4 storm that struck last month, which disabled more than 90 percent of Puerto Rico's cell towers and left its communications infrastructure in shambles.

Musk agreed. Hours later, he announced he was delaying the unveiling of Tesla's new semi-truck and diverting resources, in part to "increase battery production for Puerto Rico and other affected areas". The balloons that were deployed in Peru, in fact, were launched from Puerto Rico.

Google isn't the only tech giant extending a helping hand to Puerto Rico.

Loon balloons work by "relaying communications between Alphabet's own ground stations connected to the surviving wireless networks, and users' handsets".

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