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Google Is Using Hot Air Balloons To Restore Cell Service In Puerto Rico

While Elon Musk is pretending that he can rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with solar-powered batteries, Google wants to deliver cell phone service using balloons.

Alphabet Inc., Google’s corporate parent, received permission on Friday from the FCC to begin providing emergency cellular service to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico using balloons. The effort appears to be a dry run for Google X’s “Project Loon” moonshot program, which ultimately aims to beam internet across the world using high-altitude balloons.

Pai is also waiving regulations on telecom providers operating in Puerto Rico for six months to allow them to focus on the recovery effort.

Pai said on Friday he was launching a Hurricane Recovery Task Force focused on providing aid to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The agency has also reportedly been working with private companies since the storm to devise ways to more quickly restore the island’s downed communications infrastructure, the Hill reported.

Eight-three percent of the island's cellular sites remain out of commission, making communication on and off the island difficult, according to the agency.

One of Google X's "Project Loon" balloons

After exchanging tweets about the possibility of Tesla rebuilding the island’s power grid (presumably after helping itself to a generous portion of federal government aid dollars) PR Gov Ricardo Rosselló and Tesla chief Elon Musk had a 25-minute phone conversation Friday night where the two discussed relief efforts as well as Tesla playing a leading role, Rosselló told USA TODAY. Teams from Tesla and Puerto Rico’s energy sector will continue the talks early next week, Rosselló said at the time.

As proof of a precedent, Musk cited Tesla's work building a solar energy grid for the Hawaiian island of Kauai. However, Kauai's population is only around 70,000 people, whereas Puerto Rico’s is 3.4 million. As Newsweek points out, the island's aging power grid relies on fossil fuels that must be imported by the island, a costly expense. Solar batteries could help alleviate the financial strain on Puerto Rico as it struggles with $74 billion in debt, a large chunk of which is owed by Prepa, the island's power authority.

However, it looks like Musk might find himself preoccupied trying to rescue his company from yet another embarrassing production fiasco. As WSJ revealed late Friday, the company has been assembling new Model 3s by hand because its production line remains inoperable. Earlier in the week, Tesla revealed that it had completed only a tiny fraction of the 1,500 Model 3s it had promised to deliver by the end of the third quarter, blaming unspecified “production bottlenecks”. To be sure, Musk has sent a team of engineers to oversee installations of Tesla's "powerwall" home solar battery systems in the homes of Puerto Rican customers.

Here's a video introducing Project Loon that was published by Google back in June 2013: