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NetHope's Frank Schott leads the company's global disaster recovery efforts. Photo illustration: Rebecca Zisser

Few people have heard of NetHope, but lots of people have benefited from its work. The group acts as the tech arm for a consortium of 53 major global charities, working with tech giants to restore communications in the wake of natural disasters. These days, of course, NetHope is focused on Puerto Rico and other places devastated by recent hurricanes.

"You can't really get food, water, shelter where it needs to go if you can't communicate, certainly not at scale," NetHope global programs head Frank Schott told Axios. The group has dozens of people on the ground, including volunteers from some of the biggest companies in tech.

The bottom line: The extensive devastation of the electric grid is making things especially challenging, though the U.S. government and big companies are pitching in on efforts to restore cell service and internet connectivity.

Axios spoke to Schott about NetHope and the unique challenges facing Puerto Rico. Here are the highlights:

Just how bad are things?

"They are probably much worse than what we are seeing in the press," Schott said, noting that much of the island has been without power for nearly three weeks. "The absence of electricity makes it hard to maintain perishable foods so there is a food problem. There is a lack of clean water...The longer that goes on the more trouble that will be."

Garbage is piling up and the rainy season isn't over yet, which could lead to problems like water-borne diseases. "It's a problem that has the potential to get a lot worse."

What makes the situation in Puerto Rico different from past disasters?

"What's unique about Puerto Rico is that the electric grid was basically wiped out," Schott said. "Most emergencies [involve] repairing any power outages and standing back up electricity and power in a few places. In this case power is a challenge everywhere."

The other is that, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, NetHope finds itself working alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

What do you make of Google offering to bring its internet-serving Loon balloons?

"It's massively interesting and we encourage that kind of activity," Schott said. "Even if it doesn't make a big difference for this emergency, it does position us well for follow-on emergencies."

You have workers from Facebook, Google, Cisco not only working together but living side-by-side in rented houses. How's that going?

"They get along great," Schott said. "The magnitude of the challenge to rebuild Puerto Rico is not anything any single company would be able to do on their own. It's almost collaboration out of necessity."

Go deeper

America's child care sticker shock

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Parents looking to return to the job market may find child care options have gotten pricier — and that's if they can enroll their kids at all.

Why it matters: The fate of the recovery partially relies on the return of parents who left the workforce to care for their children.

Biden's major border shake-up

A migrant family waits to be taken to a Border Patrol processing facility after crossing the Rio Grande River. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris' trip to the border on Friday will play out amid the Biden administration widening shake-up of U.S. border policy and leadership.

Driving the news: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) tells Axios that he's been advised by a border official that as soon as mid-July the Biden administration will end all use of Title 42, a Trump-era policy citing coronavirus as rationale to block migrants at the border.

DeSantis signs law requiring college faculty, students to take surveys on beliefs

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation requiring state colleges and universities to annually survey their students, faculty and staff about their beliefs to ensure "viewpoint diversity and intellectual freedom."

Why it matters: The legislation doesn't specify for what the survey results will be used, but at a press conference on Tuesday DeSantis said that schools found to be "indoctrinating" students aren't "worth tax dollars" and are "not something we’re going to be supporting going forward."