Texas Company Turns Homeless People Into WiFi Hotspots for SXSW
It sounds like a headline from The Onion, but it’s true: A project called “Homeless Hotspots” is turning homeless Austin residents into mobile wireless hotspots outside the South by Southwest convention center.
“I’m Melvin, a 4G hotspot,” reads the T-shirt of participant Melvin Hughes. “SMS HH Melvin to 25827 for access.”
Hughes is carrying a Verizon MiFi 4G hotspot. Texting his code sends back his network password, which the recipient can use to suck down a few minutes of fast broadband access — a scarce commodity at SXSW, a tech/film/music gathering that has drawn more than 20,000 visitors to Austin, Texas.
Access is pay-what-you-want, though $2 per 15 minutes is the suggested donation, payable through Paypal or Venmo. BBH Labs, the project’s organizer, says it will pay all the proceeds directly to the participant who made the sale.
Reactions are definitely mixed, Hughes says. He’s handed out hundreds of cards explaining the project, and says a few dozen people have actually logged on.
“Some people want nothing to do with it, for whatever reason,” he says. “I think it’s a great thing. It’s an opportunity.”
BBH Labs, the experimental wing of global marketing firm BBH, came up with the idea as an attention-grabbing way to draw attention to the issue of homelessness.
Saneel Radia, BBH NY’s director of innovation, casts it as a legitimate experiment in entrepreneurship. The company was inspired by the street newspapers sold by homeless residents in dozens of cities and wanted to update the model for the Internet age.
“We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity,” Radia wrote in a blog post about the project. “We’re using SXSW as our beta test. Hopefully you can help us optimize and validate this platform, which we hope to see adopted on a broader scale.”
As reported by CNN