SXSW, the enormous annual event in Austin, Texas which merges art, music, and technology with a party atmosphere, is making headlines--and waves--with their latest event, "Homeless Hotspots".
Merging marketing with a charitable function, BBH Labs has hired several homeless individuals to become temporary mobile 4G hotspots. Each person wears a t-shirt with their name and a code which, when sent to a particular number, gets any wireless user access to broadband. This is a valuable commodity at SXSW because the event draws thousands of people and signals are few and far between.
According to CNNMoney.com, the "suggested" rate is two dollars for fifteen minutes of broadband access, though technically the company allows users to pay what they want. All proceeds go directly to the person who actually made the sale.
"I think it's a great thing. It's an opportunity," says Melvin Hughes, one of the thirteen participants.
But while Melvin and the other homeless residents were happy to do it, some view it as degrading and even "dehumanizing", according to an article on CBSNews.com. One Twitter user posted this tweet in regard to the idea:
Last thought before sleeping: the difference between "I'm running a hotspot" and "I am a hotspot" is a difference that matters.
BBH labs updated their blog recently to defend the event, saying, "We are not selling anything. There is no brand involved. There is no commercial benefit whatsoever. This is a test program that was always scheduled to end today (there’s no 2-week payment cycle). Each of the Hotspot Managers keeps all of the money they earn. The more they sell their own access, the more they as individuals make (it’s not a collected pot to be shared unless people choose to donate generally)."
As earlier reported, this is not the first SXSW event to employ the homeless.