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Balloons Being Used To Help Restore Communications To Puerto Rico

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — About four out of every five cell sites in Puerto Rico are still out of service following Hurricane Maria, leaving millions of people unable to access emergency information and communicate with loved ones. Now, some officials are looking to balloons to make the connection.

The government has given Google’s Project Loon an experimental license to operate in Puerto Rico.

“Each Loon balloon has an antenna that provides the Internet,” said Rich DeVaul with Google’s parent company Alphabet. You can imagine this cone of coverage on the ground.”

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Each provides about 25 miles of broadband signal as it floats 12.5 miles in the stratosphere. DeVaul spoke with the BBC. He says in a disaster, these balloons can be launched quickly.

“We can actually cluster more of these balloons, providing better network coverage,” he explained.

It worked during the spring floods in Peru, Google says, providing enough data for 30 million WhatsApp messages and a couple million emails for tens of thousands of people.

FCC boss Ajit Pai calls Project Loon an “innovative approach to help restore connectivity.” He’s pushing wireless carriers to cooperate.

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