Sorry!! The article you are trying to read is not available now.

Need Wi-Fi Access? Just Walk Toward the Nearest Homeless Person

Print comment Post Comments
As excited fans know very well, Apple’s (AAPL) new iPad, which is available on March 16, will come equipped with 4G LTE technology. 4G technology offers faster data speeds, which is all well and great, but given that Verizon (VZ) and AT&T’s (T) 4G coverage is spotty at best, there are bound to be times where you wished that you had easy access to Wi-Fi hotspots.
At this year’s South by Southwest technology (or SXSW) conference, one firm came up with an idea to blanket densely packed cities with Wi-Fi hotspots that would also serve to do good as well, but depending on how you view it, their idea could either be innovative or exploitative.
The project from BBH Labs, the innovation unit of the international marketing agency BBH is named “Homeless Hotspots.” The idea works like this: The company would outfit homeless people with mobile Wi-Fi devices, or "MiFis," and when people gain internet access through those devices, they would donate money to those homeless folks. BBH Labs even demonstrated at the conference how it would work.

This year in Austin, as you wonder 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. These are homeless individuals in the Case Management program at Front Steps Shelter. They’re carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access.

In exchange for their services as mobile transmission portals, participants also received a daily wage of $20.

The project, termed a “charitable experiment” by BBH Labs, quickly garnered a firestorm of controversy, with many saying that the project was exploitative.

At ReadWriteWeb, Jon Mitchell argues that “Homeless Hotspots are helpless pieces of privilege-extending human infrastructure,” and takes issue with the fact that participants wear T-Shirts that say “I am a hotspot,” instead of a less dehumanizing “I’m running a hotspot.”

“The digital divide has never hit us over the head with a more blunt display of unselfconscious gall,” he writes.

Defenders of BBH Labs and the project say that critics are being overly harsh, since this is a charitable venture which not only allows participants to actively make their own livings but also encourages social interaction between WiFi users and the often ignored homeless.

One participant in the project, Clarence Jones, 54, a New Orleans native who became homeless after Hurricane Katrina, told the New York Times that he was glad for the employment opportunity.

“Everyone thinks I’m getting the rough end of the stick, but I don’t feel that,” said Jones. “I love talking to people and it’s a job. An honest day of work and pay.”

Given the large homeless populations in cities like New York and San Francisco, where urban, tech-savvy crowds often overwhelm cellular networks, if the project is a success, might we be seeing the homeless populations in such metropolitan areas carrying mobile Wi-Fi devices soon?
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.