Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis this week called on President Joe Biden’s administration to green a plan to transmit the Internet to people in Cuba via high-altitude balloons when their government blocked the entrance.


Yes. For years, Alphabet – Google’s parent company – worked to perfect an online balloon sharing service called Loon. Closed that project in January, saying it was not commercially viable.

Prior to the closure, Loon Balloons had provided service in mountainous areas in Kenya through a partnership with a local telecom, Telkom Kenya. The service also helped secure wireless communications in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, which destroyed the island’s mobile network. Loon partnered with AT&T to make the service available.


Loon balloons were effectively mobile towers the size of a tennis court. They flew from 60,000 to 75,000 meters, or 11 to 14 miles (18,000 – 23,000 meters, or 18-22 kilometers), over Earth, over the commercial airliners. Made from ordinary plastic polyethylene, the balloons used solar panels for electricity and could provide smartphone service in partnership with a local telecom.

Each balloon can serve thousands of people, the company said. But they had to be replaced every five months or so due to difficult conditions in the stratosphere. And balloons can be difficult to control. “Navigating balloons across the stratosphere has always been difficult,” wrote Salvatore Candido, who had been chief technology officer for Loon, in a blog post in December 2020. The company created algorithms that tracked wind patterns.


Loon had said that beyond the balloons themselves, it was necessary to integrate the network with a telecom to provide service and some ground equipment in the region. He also needed permission from local regulators – something the Cuban government is unlikely to provide.


Yes. Loon used lots of balloons to expand the connections beyond the necessary ground connection. In a 2018 test, Loon said the link was thrown 1,000 miles, or about 620 miles, over 7 balloons. Another time, it passed a wireless connection over 600 kilometers, or about 370 miles, between two balloons. Cuba and Florida are in their vicinity only about 160 miles (160 kilometers) away.


But experts are not sure it would be so easy to set up a guerrilla internet service for Cuba this way. It would take an unused spectrum band, or radio frequency, to transmit a connection to Cuba, and the use of spectrum is usually controlled by national governments. Anyone who tries this will have to find a free spectrum block that would not interfere, said Jacob Sharony, of Mobius Consulting, a mobile and wireless consulting firm.

Networks with balloon or drone power are unlikely to be economical in the long run, said Tim Farrar of TMF Associates, a satellite communications consultant. While they are suitable for overcoming communications between disasters or in war zones, the transmission capabilities of such networks are not large – “certainly not enough to serve the entire population of Cuba or anything like that, “Farrar said.

Another challenge: The Cuban government may also try to block the signal.

WHO IS ISLF hiding in the Cuban effort?

DeSantis promoted the idea of ​​balloons Thursday along with two Cuban-American members of Congress from the Miami area, the Reps. Maria Salazar and Carlos Gimenez, FCC commissioner Brendan Carr and Cuban-American lawyer, businessman and museum director Marcell Felipe.

Felipe said he had talked for about two years with a defense contractor who could place such balloons in a cost-effective manner in the airspace near Cuba, but declined to name the company. Felipe said his idea would involve transmitting the internet connection directly to mobiles on the island without the participation of any terrestrial provider. In comments to the Associated Press, Felipe claimed that it would not be possible for the Cuban government to block these signals scattered on the balloon “in any significant way”, although he did not cite any evidence.

None of the supporters gave a cost estimate. Salazar said that if the federal government approves the plan, it believes it could be fully funded with contributions from members of the Cuban diaspora if needed.


Internet access in Cuba has been expensive and relatively rare until recently. Starting in December 2018, Cubans could gain internet access on their phones through the state telecom monopoly. More than half of Cubans today have access to the Internet.

But the Cuban government restricts independent media and censors what is available to Cubans online, according to Human Rights Watch. It disrupts internet access in a bid to advance protests.


AP Miami News Director Ian Mader contributed to this article.