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Google got permission to float its internet-beaming balloons over Puerto Rico

08 October 2017

United States authorities have approved Alphabet Inc's application to use its experimental Project Loon balloons to provide emergency mobile phone service to disaster-stricken Puerto Rico, as Tesla said it would send more battery supplies.

According to the FCC, 83 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico are out of service, 57 percent for the US Virgin Islands, and 100 percent for St. John.

Thanks to Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico's cellular infrastructure has been badly damaged.

As Puerto Rico and its people continue to reel from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, two of the world's biggest tech companies have outlined plans for bringing power back to the Caribbean island and USA territory.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk often takes to Twitter to mull over ideas, but on Friday his musings about sending his company's solar-powered batteries to help restore Puerto Rico's power attracted the attention of the island's governor.

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".

Loon is one of Google's original "moonshot efforts created to bring connectivity to remote areas of the world and locales struggling in the aftermath of natural disaster". Google parent company Alphabet offered to send its Wi-Fi balloons. "I'm glad the FCC was able to grant this experimental license with dispatch and I urge wireless carriers to cooperate with Project Loon to maximize this effort's chances of success".

In 2016, a test site was set up in Puerto Rico to launch what the project called "a handful of test balloons". But in that case, Google had already partnered with a telecom provider on the ground, which it depended on to beam the signal to the balloons, for disaster relief.

Earlier, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced he was forming a Hurricane Recovery Task Force with an emphasis on addressing challenges facing Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

"They noticed everyone in the plaza pulling their phones out", said CEO Vanu Bose.

Google got permission to float its internet-beaming balloons over Puerto Rico