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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

Justice Department drops insider trading inquiry against Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) walking through the Senate Subway in the U.S. Capitol in December 2020. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The Department of Justice told Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Tuesday that it will not move forward with insider trading charges against him.

Why it matters: The decision, first reported by the New York Times, effectively ends the DOJ's investigation into the senator's stock sell-off that occurred after multiple lawmakers were briefed about the coronavirus' potential economic toll. Burr subsequently stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Netflix tops 200 million global subscribers

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Netflix said that it added another 8.5 million global subscribers last quarter, bringing its total number of paid subscribers globally to more than 200 million.

The big picture: Positive fourth-quarter results show Netflix's resiliency, despite increased competition and pandemic-related production headwinds.

Janet Yellen plays down debt, tax hike concerns in confirmation hearing

Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen at an event in December. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Janet Yellen, Biden's pick to lead the Treasury Department, pushed back against two key concerns from Republican senators at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday: the country's debt and the incoming administration's plans to eventually raise taxes.

Driving the news: Yellen — who's expected to win confirmation — said spending big now will prevent the U.S. from having to dig out of a deeper hole later. She also said the Biden administration's priority right now is coronavirus relief, not raising taxes.