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Using the homeless as Wi-Fi hotspots

A truly inhuman WiFi hot spot.
A truly inhuman WiFi hot spot.
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Every year in March, hundreds of thousands of music fans, musicians, bloggers, film crews and the corporate dollars that follow them ascend onto the streets and clubs of Austin, Texas for the South By Southwest Festival.

Just as the influx of temporary citizens can take its toll on all sorts of resources like hotel rooms and parking, there’s another modern day necessity that festival goers cannot possibly live without, internet access. As the number of smartphones, tablets and laptop computers go up the amount of data to support their online needs goes down. Enter Bartle, Bogle, and Hegarty or BBH, an advertising agency who thinks they have the solution; A charitable experiment that uses the homeless of Austin as wireless Internet hotspots.

Thirteen members of the Homeless community will be strategically placed in populated areas donning a t-shirt that reads “I am a 4G Hotspot.” If you are able to find one (the BBH website has developed an interactive map to help you locate them) you can simply pay them what you like, the recommended amount is $2 per 15 minutes, via paypal and using the remote wireless routers on their person will grant you access to a very precious commodity, high connection speeds.

The homeless individuals are in the Case Management Program at Front Steps Shelter and will make 100 percent of all the money given to use the service. BBH has done similar charitable work for the homeless in New York City with a now-defunct program called Underheard. So, does BBH's use of the homeless population overstep the boundary of exploitation? Is there value for the homeless individual to act as a wireless Internet hotspot beyond their compensation?


Mark Horvath, Founder, InvisiblePeople.TV – described as social media activism to end homelessness; Case manager at Ascensia service center for individuals who are homeless, based in Los Angeles

Sean Condon, Board Vice President, Co-chair, North American Street Newspaper Association; Executive Director of Megaphone, a magazine sold on the streets of Vancouver by homeless and low-income vendors.

Rabbi Marvin Gross, CEO, Union Station Homeless Services


So, does BBH’s use of the homeless in this regard overstep the boundary of exploitation? Is there value for the homeless individual to act as a wifi hotspot beyond their compensation? Is this charitable experiment a win-win for everyone involved?