Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), the parent company of Google, has been granted an experimental licence to deploy a network of giant balloons to restore cellular connectivity in hurricane-battered Puerto Rico.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave Alphabet's Moonshot Factory approval to kick-start so-called Project Loon, which will aim to provide emergency cell services in the US territory.
“More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services,” said FCC chairman Ajit Pai.
“That’s why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island. Project Loon is one such approach."
Libby Leahy, a spokesperson for Google X - the laboratory that oversees Project Loon – said the next step will be to find a wireless carrier to serve as its partner. Leahy said the company has been making “solid progress” on its search for a telecom partner to supply the cellular network needed for its balloons.
“To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner’s network — the balloons can’t do it alone,” Leahy said.
The plan is to launch high-altitude balloons that will beam signals down from more than 12 miles above the earth as a way of connecting residents.
Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico on 20 September with winds of 150 miles per hour and massive flooding, causing about 34 deaths.
Facebook has also sought to aid Puerto Rico by sending a connectivity team to the Caribbean island under an initiative announced by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on 27 September.
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk held talks with Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló on Friday about helping to repair the area’s power grid with solar-powered batteries.