Google's latest 'moonshot' idea: balloon-powered internet for all

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The FCC has granted an experimental license for Project Loon to help provide emergency cellular service in Puerto Rico.

As Harris spotted, earlier today the FCC granted a "Special Temporary Authorization" to "support licensed mobile carriers' restoration of limited communications capability in areas of Puerto Rico".

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For those who have no idea what Project Loon is, the balloons provide internet access by "relaying communications between Alphabet's own ground stations connected to the surviving wireless networks, and users' handsets". "Project Loon is one such approach".

The FCC said that working with other federal agencies it will "coordinate requests for assistance from communications providers" as well as compile and analyze data on the operational status of communications services. It partners with local telecommunications companies to transmit high-speed internet from high-altitude balloons. "It could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information". "Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner's network-the balloons can't do it alone".

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"We're grateful for the support of the FCC and the Puerto Rican authorities as we work hard to see if it's possible to use Loon balloons to bring emergency connectivity to the island during this time of need", said Libby Leahy, a spokesman for Alphabet's X division.

The company had previously conducted connectivity tests in Australia, New Zealand and several South American countries. 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. According to Mashable, the Peruvian project leader said the balloons sent 160 GB of data as they floated over an area about the size of Sweden, "enough data to send and receive around 30 million WhatsApp messages, or 2 million emails".

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