Homeless people as WiFi hotspots?
Yes, that's an idea pitched by London-based marketing firm BBH Labs earlier today at the celebrated South by Southwest (SXSW) festival going on right now in Austin, Texas.
Here's the concept: Outfit homeless men and women with a MiFi device, a mobile WiFi router. They will also wear t-shirts reading “I am a 4G hotspot.” The idea is they wander around the SXSW conference supplying attendees with Internet.
The company is testing out the idea right now at SXSW, in fact.
"This year in Austin, as you wonder (sic) between locations murmuring to
your coworker about how your connection sucks and you can’t
download/stream/tweet/instagram/check-in, you’ll notice strategically
positioned individuals wearing “Homeless Hotspot” t-shirts," BBH wrote online. "We’re using SXSW as our beta test."
Those who avail themselves to the WiFi would be asked to pay the homeless person for the service. As of now, there's no set fee, it's only "pay what you want," according to BBH. They suggest $2 for 15 minutes.
Not surprisingly, there was a bit of backlash against the plan. Just a bit.
“What a shameful, hideous, patronising, dehumanising idea,” wrote Luke Scheybeler, a UK brand strategist, on Twitter.
Wrote one commenter on BBH's site:
"I’ve got a troubleshooting issue that I hope you can resolve: my
homeless hotspot keeps wandering out of range, and it’s ruining all my
day trades! How am I supposed to remotely manage my stock portfolio if
my internet connection is actually an ITINERANT connection!? ha ha ha"
So BBH took to online to defend the concept, saying they are actually trying to help the homeless, writing:
"Obviously, there’s an insane amount of chatter about this, which although certainly villianizes us, in many ways is very good for the homeless people we’re trying to help: homelessness is actually a subject being discussed at SXSW and these people are no longer invisible."
BBH pointed out the idea stemmed from the Street Newspaper concept, where homeless people create and sell their own newspaper. But BBH said they are concerned that business is being phased out in the transition to digital.
"We’re believers that providing a
digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print
commodity," wrote BBH.
What do you think: Help the homeless earn money and get cheap WiFi at the same time?
Or is the idea one that objectifies the homeless and further divides the haves from the have-nots? And why on earth can't people attending a technology conference get good WiFi in the first place?