FCC Lets Alphabet's Balloon-Borne 'Net Fly

The FCC has granted Google parent Alphabet an experimental license for Project Loon, which uses a network of balloons to provide cell service.

Project Loon is meant to deliver broadband to remote areas. In this case the goal is to provide emergency connectivity in Hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urged cellular carriers to cooperate with Alphabet.

“More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services,” he said in a statement Friday (Oct. 7).  “That’s why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island.  Project Loon is one such approach.  It could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information."

Alphabet says it has conducted over 19 million kilometers worth of test flights, with broadband speeds of up to 10 mbps.

According to the FCC's most recent update from voluntary reports of communications outages due to Maria,  81.9% of cell cites (down from 83% yesterday the day before) are out of service and all counties except Bayamon, Catano, Carolina, Guaynabo, San Juan, Toa Alta and Toa Baja, have more than 75% of their cell sites out of service and 22 counties (out of the 78) have 100% outages.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.