Alphabeth Inc given approval to restore wireless service in Puerto Rico


Family members gather while attempting to speak by phone with another family member along a roadside near the top of a mountain in Orocovis, more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, on October 6, 2017.

More than 90 percent of people on the island of Puerto Rico don't have power, and more than 80 percent don't have access to wireless cell service, according to the most recent advisories from FEMA and the Federal Communications Commission.

In the meantime, the situation throughout Puerto Rico has remained bad.

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Alphabet, Google's parent company, is not the only US-based tech company working on efforts to help Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

For these reasons, the FCC has just granted permission for Alphabet to use their Project Loon balloons again to provide cellular and LTE connections across the country. With 83% of all cell phone service in Puerto Rico still out due to the hurricane, a solution is direly needed, to say the least. In a filing with the FCC, Google wrote that it wanted approval to use the balloons to "support licensed mobile carriers' restoration of limited communications capability" in Puerto Rico.

Project Loon sends balloons intro the stratosphere - twice as high as commercial airliners - where they are self-powered by solar panels. Giant balloons are sent about 12 miles up into the Earth's atmosphere.

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The company had previously conducted connectivity tests in Australia, New Zealand and several South American countries. Much of the ground work is being spearheaded by nonprofit organizations and small firms with expertise in rural or emergency communications.

When severe floods hit some parts of Peru earlier this year, Alphabet came to the rescue in a first-ever real-world situation, providing internet access to thousands of people down below. After setting up a network on the island of Vieques, off the main island of Puerto Rico, one team watched from a roof as local residents started getting text alerts from family members who had been trying to get in touch.

According to The Verge, Project Loon will need to work with a partner telecom network to make it all work.

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