Google’s WiFi Balloons Take Flight In Puerto Rico


Back in 2015, CivSource reported on a new Google project to provide internet access via high-powered balloons. Google calls it “Project Loon” and has been running international trials in areas with challenging geographies and limited fiber networks. Now, Google has been granted temporary authority by the FCC to launch Project Loon balloons in hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.

“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 on Saturday. “That’s why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island. Project Loon is one such approach.”

Project Loon has already been deployed during disaster events internationally – including during the recent floods in Peru.

According to the special temporary authority (STA) granted by the FCC, Project Loon will be able to use the existing the 900 MHz band, as long as it gets permission from carriers already on the island. The balloons are positioned in the air above where commercial aircraft typically fly and can remain airborne for several months.

There is no immediate timeline available for how long it will take to deploy the balloons in Puerto Rico. So far, more than 80 percent of cell towers in Puerto Rico remain inoperable leaving residents to rely on a limited supply of satellite phones for essential communication.

On October 3, Pai asked the Commission for up to seven months of carrier funding to be provided in a lump sum in order to restore service in Puerto Rico. Seven months of funding is equal to $76.9 million.