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Project Loon cleared to help restore wireless in Puerto Rico

With over 80 percent of towers still down, it could connect remote areas.
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A Google Project Loon internet balloon is seen at the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, California May 19, 2016. Stephen Lam / Reuters

Project Loon -- the balloon delivered internet project that started life as part of Google and now calls Alphabet's X "innovation lab" home -- has moved one step closer to becoming a part of the relief efforts in Puerto Rico. The FCC has issued an "experimental license" for it to provide emergency cellular LTE service. In a statement, an X spokesperson explained that the next step is to integrate with a telco partner's network, which it's "making solid progress on."

Cell services outages by county in Puerto Rico

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. However, Loon had already been testing with Telefonica in Peru, which sped up the process.

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. It also took the step of creating its Hurricane Recovery Task Force that will work on restoring services to the islands.

X spokesperson:

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. To deliver signal to people's devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner's network — the balloons can't do it alone. We've been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who's been lending a hand.

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