Google Will Help Restore The Telephone System In Puerto Rico

Alphabet said it was working to “support licensed mobile carriers’ restoration of limited communications capability” in Puerto Rico. Mike Blake  Reuters

Alphabet's Project Loon was unveiled in 2013 with the ambitious goal of bringing "balloon-powered Internet [to] everyone" on Earth.

"Overall, 81.7 percent (virtually no change from 81.9 percent yesterday) of cell sites are out of service", the FCC stated in a report on the island's recovery efforts.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk often takes to Twitter to mull over ideas, but on Friday his musings about sending his company's solar-powered batteries to help restore Puerto Rico's power attracted the attention of the island's governor.

"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. All Puerto Rican counties, with the exception of Catano, Bayamon, Carolina, San Juan, Toa Baja and Guaynabo have more than 75% of their cell sites offline, said the FCC Sunday afternoon. Large percentages of residents are also without cable or wireline service. Ensuring this is the fact that Alphabet has made great strides with Project Loon, with machine learning able to keep the balloons up in the air for over three months and further advances in artificial intelligence requiring less balloons to provide service to particular regions. In May, the head of Project Loon said that in partnership with a telecommunications company, the network of balloons was able to "provide basic Internet connectivity to tens of thousands of people who would otherwise not have had connectivity".

Project Loon must be integrated with the network of a cellular company in order to provide service, and Alphabet is "making solid progress on this next step", the spokesperson said.

Loon was also put to work earlier this year to help bring connectivity to flood-damaged Peru.

The balloons are floating at 20 kilometers in the stratosphere. Project Loon seeks to restore wireless internet in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, there is more work to do.

Cisco Systems has sent a tactical team and says it is working with local government, emergency responders and service providers to facilitate restoration and recovery efforts.

The Wall Street Journal's sources list AT&T and T-Mobile as other potential carrier partners and a Sprint spokesman confirms the carrier is in talks with Alphabet. The FCC has granted Google the authority to use existing spectrum on the island in the 900 MHz band, with the permission of local carriers already on the island.

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