'Project Loon' Balloon Internet Project by Google Cleared for Puerto Rico Launch

The FCC announced it has granted Google permission to deploy 30 balloons over Puerto Rico to provide emergency LTE service in that United States territory, where an estimated 83 percent of cellular towers remain offline almost three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck the island.

Google had stationed a launch location for its Project Loon balloons in Puerto Rico in February last year, earlier this year saying it would use this launchpad to send balloons over Peru to provide coverage after mass flooding. The coverage would be provided through local carriers.

Google's Project Loon balloons being inflated.

If successful, the project's balloons would deliver much-needed communications and online connectivity to Puerto Rico, as the FCC issues an "experimental license" to the company for the launch.

Separately, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said in a Twitter posting late on Friday that he had a "great initial conversation with @elonmusk tonight". Testing is going slowly, but Loon has proven particularly good at restoring communications after a natural disaster.

According to the FCC, all 78 Puerto Rican counties are still affected [PDF] by communications service outages as of October 8 in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Project Loon was transferred to Alphabet when Google created that holding corporation, and it previously deployed the technology in Indonesia and Sri Lanka to serve communities in both nations.

Eight-three percent of the island's cellular sites remain out of commission, making communication on and off the island hard, according to the agency. X Division's "innovation lab" highlights.

The parent company of Google received the green light on Friday to provide emergency cellular service to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico using balloons.

The X Division has confirmed via an earlier statement that they have made "Solid progress" on integrating with a telco on the US territory, which has been hard-hit by Hurricane Maria nearly a month ago. Project Loon is one such approach.

In late September, Tesla said it was sending hundreds of batteries that can store power generated by solar panels to Puerto Rico to provide emergency help in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Vanessa Coleman