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Phones

Project Loon balloons from Google's Alphabet to aid Puerto Rico

The FCC approves a request from Project Loon to provide airborne cell towers that could help restore cell service on the isle.

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That's not a balloon. It's a cell tower.

Alphabet

It looks like Project Loon will be sending balloons to Puerto Rico to help the hurricane-ravaged island re-establish phone service.

In two tweets Friday, Matthew Berry, chief of staff of the US Federal Communications Commission, said the FCC had approved the Loon application to provide emergency cellular service to the island.

Project Loon, from Google parent company Alphabet, uses high-altitude solar-powered balloons to provide phones with a wireless network connection. Think of the balloons as floating cell towers. Alphabet expects to eventually commercialize the venture. Earlier this year, the Loon team partnered with cell carrier Telefonica to help improve internet access in Peru after flooding in that country.

As of Thursday, 84.6 percent of cell sites on Puerto Rico were still not functioning, according to the FCC.

"More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement Saturday (PDF). "That's why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island. Project Loon is one such approach. It could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information."

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