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Big Tech has big plans to help reconnect Puerto Rico


The balloons are about the size of a tennis court when inflated at altitude and carry roughly the equivalent of a cell-tower communications package powered by solar panels during the day and batteries at night, according to Loon's technical data.

"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".

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The Loon project consists of a network of high altitude balloons that rise like weather balloons to a height above 60,000 feet. In a filing with the FCC, Google wrote that it wanted approval to use the balloons to "support licensed mobile carriers' restoration of limited communications capability" in Puerto Rico. To deliver the signal to people's devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner's network - the balloons can't do it alone. But in earlier statements to Mashable, a Loon spokesman said the Puerto Rico effort would be "a little more complicated because we're starting from scratch".

The project - called Loon - could help restore some communications capabilities after Hurricane Maria wiped out Puerto Rico's infrastructure. The balloons will also help restore service in the US Virgin Islands, which were slammed by the storm as well.

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Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez has said that "The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years", and reports say that even after two weeks since Maria made landfall over the island, only less than 12% of the region has electricity, only 55% of Puerto Ricans have access to drinking water, and only 44% have working mobile connectivity. The company has said it will partner with telecommunications services that are already present on the island.

This move comes just a week after the Project Loon team tweeted that they looking at ways to bring emergency connectivity to Puerto Rico.

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Spokesperson Libby Leahy said X is making "solid progress on this next step", but the company declined to indicate a potential time frame for when the project could come online. The group will be rounded out with representatives from bureaus and offices throughout the agency.

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