Alphabet Will Deploy Balloons to Restore Puerto Rico’s Phone Service

Google’s parent company Alphabet will deploy an unconventional approach to restoring phone access in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria’s devastation: stratospheric balloons.

Already heavily burdened by a looming debt crisis, Puerto Rico has been crying out for assistance in the wake of Hurricane Maria — a storm that is estimated to have cost the U.S. island territory between $45 and $90 billion.

As relief efforts continue, one of the major challenges facing aid providers is a lack of power. Due to heavily damaged infrastructure, relief workers are struggling to coordinate so they can get aid to those who most need it — which, sadly, is almost every single member of the 3.4 million island population.

Now, Google’s parent company hopes to provide a novel solution: using large balloons to restore phone service.

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Saturday, October 7, that it would grant an “experimental license” to Alphabet’s Project Loon for deployment in puerto Rico. FCC Chairman Pai stated:

More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services. 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. I’m glad the FCC was able to grant this experimental license with dispatch and I urge wireless carriers to cooperate with Project Loon to maximize this effort’s chances of success.

The initiative, which began in 2013, strategically deploys solar-powered high altitude balloons equipped with networking technology to provide internet access to remote regions. When Alphabet secures a phone carrier partnership for its latest endeavor, it should be able to restore some phone service to Puerto Rico, helping to reconnect more than 80 percent of the island which is still without phone service.

Specifically, the FCC approval allows Alphabet to fly 30 Loon balloons over Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for the next six months.

It remains unclear as to when this service can be deployed, and substantial hurdles still remain. But Project Loon has previously proven successful — as when balloons were deployed to help flood-hit Peru earlier this year.

The technology hasn’t been utilized in Puerto Rico before, so it will take some time to collaborate with phone service carriers to get this operation up and running. At the moment, around eight wireless carriers are reportedly cooperating with Alphabet to open up their frequencies for use.

In this video, the scientists and engineers behind Project Loon discuss the development of the balloons:

This kind of innovation could be absolutely vital for Puerto Rico’s recovery. The longer that Puerto Rico’s waterways are compromised, the higher the risk of mass health problems. And reconnecting people could be a major step toward locking down infection risks and restoring wider network activity.

Given, though, that current estimates suggest it could take as long as six months to restore power throughout the island, another key area of concern is maintaining vital services and supporting those who are seriously overstretched.

Thankfully, Alphabet isn’t the only company looking to help. Elon Musk’s Tesla, Inc. is reportedly sending ”hundreds of batteries that can store power generated by solar panels,” as well as increasing battery production to help support Puerto Rico’s recovery.

As Puerto Rico attempts to keep hospitals running and to restore vital road networks, these innovations aren’t just promising — their success could be vital. Even as President’s Trump’s response to the crisis continues to draw criticism, these efforts show that empathy and action can still be delivered for the people impacted by Hurricane Maria.

Photo credit: ILighter.

42 comments

Adele E Zimmermann
Adele E Zimmermann2 months ago

If it weren't for charitable organizations and private corporations, the death toll in Puerto Rico would come close to that of the "real catastrophe" of Katrina. Certainly, the United States government is not providing innovative fixes for electric power and communications outages. And most of the medical care is provided by volunteers. They don't seem to care that Puerto Ricans are Hispanic.

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Very informative. Thanks for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Great advice and information Thanks for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Very interesting article Really great. Thanks for caring and sharing

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. Dutka2 months ago

Thank you Alphabet, Tesla and others who are willing to provide real help. Paper towels tossed by tRUMP are NOT anything more than a slap in the face to those affected.

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Winn A
Winn Adams2 months ago

Noted

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Kelsey S
Kelsey S2 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R2 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R2 months ago

Thanks

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Margie F
Margie FOURIE2 months ago

I dont agree

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