Turning the Homeless into Portable Wifi Hotspots: “Homeless Hotspot” Business Model Debuts at SXSW

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How many times have you thought “Damn, if only I could get on the Internet right now! Where is the nearest public access wireless hotspot?” And how many times have you seen a homeless person standing on a street corner trying to raise some cash? Well, BBH Labs (the Bs stand for Bartle and Bogle and the H stands for Hegarty) have what they believe to be the answer: combine the two by turning the homeless into on-demand portable wifi hotspots. BBH debuted the so-called “Homeless Hotspots” at South by SouthWest (SXSW) this week, in Austin.

Here’s how it works: BBH outfitted several local homeless people with portable Mifi cellular modem personal hotspots, along with t-shirts advertising that they are part of the Homeless Hotspot program. What this means is that people can pay them to use their Mifi hotspots to access the Internet.


 

homeless-hotspot-tshirt

Participants are paid $20 a day, and they are allowed to keep what people pay them to use their hotspots to access the Internet. BBH’s HH suggests $2.00 for 15 minutes, but people can pay whatever they like.

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Turning the Homeless into Portable Wifi Hotspots:  “Homeless Hotspot” Business Model Debuts at SXSW

Debuting it at SXSW may have been a brilliant stroke of marketing, as attendees can often be heard complaining about the poor quality of the Internet connections at the conference, as the conference network gets overloaded with laptops, smartphones, and other Internet-accessing devices.

Explains Saneel Radia, Director of Innovation at BBH, “We saw it as a means to raise awareness by giving homeless people a way to engage with mainstream society and talk to people. The hot spot is a way for them to tell their story.”

But not everybody sees it that way, and more than a few have accused BBH of exploiting the homeless. Wired Magazine’s Tim Carmody calls the project “something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia,” in his coverage of the Homeless Hotspots project, The Damning Backstory Behind Homeless Hotspots at SXSW.

We’re not sure where we come down on this project, and we’d love to hear what you think about it!

Let us know.

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Turning the Homeless into Portable Wifi Hotspots:  “Homeless Hotspot” Business Model Debuts at SXSW

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