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Google's parent company to restore wireless service in Puerto Rico using balloons

Google's parent company to restore wireless service in Puerto Rico using balloons

It was the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. in over a century and the 155mph winds left Puerto Rico entirely without power.

Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello seems open to the idea but there will be a few regulatory and political hurdles to overcome first before Tesla's SolarCity firm can get to work.

A Google Project Loon internet balloon is seen at the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, California May 19, 2016. Now, Alphabet wants to do something similar in Puerto Rico where most people are still without any cell service.

In a report issued yesterday (PDF), the FCC said 83 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico are still out of service, along with 57 percent in the US Virgin Islands and 100 percent in St. John.

Libby Leahy, a spokeswoman for X, the Alphabet unit that oversees Project Loon, said in a statement that Loon "needs to be integrated with a telco partner's [cellular] network - the balloons can't do it alone". The reason for increased difficulty is that Loon was already in testing in Peru with a carrier and was ready to roll. "We've been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who's been lending a hand". "That's why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island".

That's where Project Loon comes in.

Loon was developed at X, Alphabet's innovation lab. Alphabet also is the parent of search engine Google.

In late September, Tesla said it was sending hundreds of batteries that can store power generated by solar panels to Puerto Rico to provide emergency help in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

At the time, they noted that deploying to Puerto Rico would be harder than their previous emergency deployment to Peru as they did not have existing infrastructure in place.

-Jack Nicas contributed to this article.


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