A Project Loon balloon being readied for deployment to Puerto Rico. Photo: Alphabet

AT&T and Alphabet said late Friday that they have begun to offer limited mobile Internet service using the Google parent company's Project Loon balloons.

Apple is issuing a cellular settings update that will allow iPhones to activate the currently unused Band 8 to access the Loon-based service. It's the second time Project Loon has been activated to assist with an emergency (the first was in Peru) and the first time Loon has been used in the U.S. The FCC earlier granted temporary approval for Loon to operate in Puerto Rico.

Why it matters: Connectivity and power remain major challenges for Puerto Rico and communications are seen as a necessary starting point for other parts of recovery and rebuilding to move forward. Without cellular service, even first responders and humanitarian groups are forced to use pricey satellite phones.

"We've never deployed Project Loon connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace, and we're grateful for the support of AT&T and the many other partners and organizations that have made this possible," the Loon team said in a blog post.

In general, Loon is designed to bring Interest service to remote and rural areas not easily served with cell service, though aid groups say they are excited to have more options for disaster relief efforts.

What's covered: Project Loon supports basic internet communications including text messaging, basic web access and e-mail. AT&T said there is no added cost to its customers for the service.

The downside: Because they are solar powered, the Loon balloons only offer service during the daytime.

Separately, AT&T said Friday that more than 60% of the population in Puerto Rico and 90% of the population in the U.S. Virgin Islands has cell service.

Go deeper

Updated 14 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 p.m. ET: 18,643,633 — Total deaths: 703,127 — Total recoveries — 11,206,409Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 p.m. ET: 4,811,128 — Total deaths: 157,690 — Total recoveries: 1,528,979 — Total tests: 58,239,438Map.
  3. Public health: Florida surpasses 500,000 confirmed casesFauci calls U.S. coronavirus testing delays "totally unacceptable."
  4. Business: America's next housing crisis.
  5. States: Virginia launches contact tracing app using specs from Apple and Google.
  6. Politics: White House, Democrats remain "trillions of dollars apart" on stimulus talks.
38 mins ago - World

How new tech raises the risk of nuclear war

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some experts believe the risk of the use of a nuclear weapon is as high now as it has been since the Cuban missile crisis.

The big picture: Nuclear war remains the single greatest present threat to humanity — and one that is poised to grow as emerging technologies, like much faster missiles, cyber warfare and artificial intelligence, upset an already precarious nuclear balance.

White House, Democrats remain "trillions of dollars apart" on stimulus talks

Meadows and Mnuchin. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Trump administration and Democrats have not agreed to any "top-line numbers" and remain "trillions of dollars apart" on coronavirus stimulus negotiations, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday.

The state of play: Meadows told reporters, "At this point we’re either going to get serious about negotiating and get an agreement in principle or — I’ve become extremely doubtful that we’ll be able to make a deal if it goes well beyond Friday.”