FCC Commissioner: US Government Can Use High-Altitude Balloons to Provide Internet to Cubans

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.
July 17, 2021 Updated: July 18, 2021

The U.S. government can utilize high-altitude balloons to provide internet access to Cubans, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner says.

“The advantage of a high-altitude balloon: a proven tech that would not require new infrastructure in Cuba,” Brendan Carr wrote on Twitter on July 17.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, called on President Joe Biden to restore an internet connection to the island after the ruling regime moved to shut it off.

“I write to urge you to assist in providing Internet access to the people of Cuba standing up against communist oppression and demanding a voice after decades of suffering under the yoke of a cruel dictatorship,” DeSantis said in a letter this week to Biden, a Democrat.

Carr said the United States should follow a two-track strategy, with a focus on introducing new internet connections through the balloons and other proven technology, while also trying to bolster support for tech such as Psiphon, “which can help Cubans use the island’s existing networks by circumventing blocking.”

Psiphon said on July 16 that it helped nearly 1.4 million Cubans access the internet through its free circumvention tool on July 15 alone.

Carr was reacting to an article that noted that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, worked for years on a project involving balloons and the internet. Alphabet shut down the project in January, with officials saying they were unable to find a way to get costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business.

The FCC previously voted to give authorization to a similar project, run by a company named Raven, following a hurricane that affected Puerto Rico.

Carr also saw the technology operating in rural portions of Kenya, he told reporters at a press conference with DeSantis this week.

“What we need right now, in this moment, is the political will, bipartisan, across government—we need the Biden administration to say we are fully behind efforts to bring internet service into the Cuban people. Once we get that done … DoD will provide any authorizations needed, FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] will cover any air rights that [are] needed, the FCC will provide whatever spectrum rights are needed, State Department will deal with the international issues,” Carr said.

“As soon as President Biden says the federal government’s behind these issues, there is not a technological challenge that cannot be overcome. The American free enterprise system developed these technologies, and we can unleash them by giving them the green light at the federal level.”

People shout slogans against the government during a protest in Havana, on July 11, 2021. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

If the federal government won’t fund the effort, money can be raised through other avenues, such as from Cuban Americans, Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.) suggested.

Marcell Felipe, an attorney and businessman, said he has been in contact with a defense contractor for some time about deploying the high-altitude balloons to Cuba, and he has alerted the State Department to the proposal, as well as members of Congress representing Florida.

“We started this before the pandemic. They’ve already made a tailored plan for Cuba that provides coverage to almost the entire island and they can implement it relatively quickly, because it’s not a super-sophisticated technology, it’s something that they have done in the Middle East,” he said.

The regime in Cuba is facing protests across the nation by people upset with the communist government.

Internet connectivity would better enable Cubans to transmit pictures and videos of what’s happening on the ground.

Biden told reporters this week that Cuba is “a failed state” and that communism “is a failed system.”

“We’re considering—they’ve cut off access to the internet—we’re considering whether we have the technological ability to reinstate that access,” he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on July 16 said the proposed effort is “something we’d love to be a part of,” before referring questions on the matter to the State Department.

A State Department spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email that they didn’t have anything further on the proposed effort to help Cubans get online. The spokesperson said that Cuba’s leaders should restore all internet and telecommunications services.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.