Google balloons to restore Puerto Rico’s cell phone service

Solar powered, high-altitude devices approved for region following hurricane

One of Google’s Project Loon balloons. Photograph: John Shenk/EPA

One of Google’s Project Loon balloons. Photograph: John Shenk/EPA


The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said late on Friday it had approved Alphabet Inc’s application to provide emergency cellular service to Puerto Rico through balloons.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has struggled to regain communications services. The FCC said on Friday that 83 per cent of cell sites remain out of service, while wireless communications company are deploying temporary sites.

Alphabet, which announced its Project Loon in 2013 to use solar-powered, high-altitude balloons to provide internet service in remote regions, said in an FCC filing it was working to “support licensed mobile carriers’ restoration of limited communications capability” in Puerto Rico.

Earlier on Friday, 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.

“It is critical that we adopt a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services,” Mr Pai said in statement.

Separately, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello said in a tweet late on Friday that he had a “great initial conversation with (Elon Musk) tonight. Teams are now talking; exploring opportunities. Next steps soon to follow.”

Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Inc, said on Friday the company would send more battery installers to Puerto Rico to help restore power after Hurricane Maria knocked out all power on the island over two weeks ago.

Musk said he was diverting resources from a semi-truck project to fix Model 3 bottlenecks and “increase battery production for Puerto Rico and other affected areas.”

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 the hurricane.