Google turns on internet balloons in Puerto Rico
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Google's parent Alphabet Inc. said that its stratospheric balloons are now delivering the internet. They are delivering it to remote areas of Puerto Rico. That's where cellphone towers were knocked out. They were knocked out by Hurricane Maria.
Two of the search giant's "Project Loon" balloons are already over the country. They are enabling texts. They are enabling emails. And they are enabling basic web access. This is to AT&T customers with handsets that use its 4G LTE network.
The balloons are called HBAL199 and HBAL237. They are more than 60,000 feet above land. That's according to FlightRadar24.com. They navigate using an algorithm. The algorithm puts them in the best position to deliver signal. It is delivered by rising and falling to ride wind currents. They are also solar-powered. They only provide signal during the day.
Several more balloons are on their way. They are coming from Nevada. Alphabet has been authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to send up to 30 balloons. They will serve the hard-hit area. That's according to Libby Leahy. She is spokeswoman for Alphabet's X. That is Alphabet's division for futuristic technologies.
Project Loon is led by Alastair Westgarth. He said in a blog post that Project Loon is "still an experimental technology and we're not quite sure how well it will work." But it has been tested since last year. It was tested in Peru. This was following flooding there.
Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory. It is home to 3.4 million people. The hurricane made landfall last month. Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the death toll had risen to 49. Less than a fifth of the island has electricity. Half of Puerto Rico's cellphone towers are still not functioning. Schools are closed. There are more than 4,000 in shelters. This is according to a government website.
AT&T spokesman Jeffrey Kobs said the company has set up 14 temporary cell sites. More than 60 percent of the population was connected via mobile network. This is in part due to the help of humanitarian and government groups and Project Loon.
Other technology companies have also pledged help. Some have sent teams to the island. They are working to improve communications. And they are working to restore power. The companies include Cisco. They include Facebook. And they include Tesla.