Google balloons to help restore Puerto Rico's cell networks

Students and faculty members evacuate from Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica

Google's parent firm Alphabet on Friday received a permit from the US Federal Communications Commission to use balloons to provide hurricane-hit Puerto Rico with emergency cell service.

A Google Project Loon internet balloon is seen at the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, California May 19, 2016.

Before it can initiate service, though, Loon has to clear a few more hurdles, officials said - notably, finding a wireless carrier to serve as its partner. The FCC said yesterday that 83% of cell sites on the island are down, forcing carriers in the US territory to employ backup methods in an effort to get their networks running.

Separately, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said in a Twitter posting late on Friday that he had a "great initial conversation with @elonmusk tonight".

It could also help prove the business case for Loon, one of the experimental "moonshots" debuted as part of Google, and now housed under Alphabet subsidiary X. She added that "we've been making solid progress" on that next step.

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"This is the first time that balloon powered internet has connected tens of thousands of people", Alastair Westgarth, head of Project Loon, wrote on the project's blog.

"That's why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island", he added, urging wireless carriers to "cooperate with Project Loon to maximize this effort's chances of success".

On September 29th the X team said it was looking into ways to help Puerto Rico with Project Loon, similar to the way it helped provide service in Peru after extreme rains and flooding struck the nation in March.

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 United States territory.

-Jack Nicas contributed to this article.

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