What do you think about homeless people working for advertising agencies as wifi hotspots during SXSW?

This might sound like a joke at first but when you think about it, it’s a pretty good idea.

I saw this photo while browsing Instagram the other day and I had to take a second look.

It reads:

I’m Dusty, a 4G hotspot
SMS HH Dusty to 25827 for access

What a concept!

Homeless Hotspots is a charitable initiative by Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York that attempts to modernize the Street Newspaper model employed to support homeless populations, per their website.

Basically, they are trying to digitialize the paper boy by having him chant Wifi! instead of Extra!

BBH is a British advertising agency. You remember the “Axe Effect” commercials or the “Keep Walking” for Johnnie Walker commercials? Well that’s them.

“Our hope is to create a modern version of this successful model, offering homeless individuals an opportunity to sell a digital service instead of a material commodity. SxSW Interactive attendees can pay what they like to access 4G networks carried by our homeless collaborators. This service is intended to deliver on the demand for better transit connectivity during the conference,” explained on homelesshotspots.org.

They say all payments for access go directly to the person selling you the access through paypal accounts.

While it looks like the project was created with SXSW in mind, homeless hotspots have crept up in other areas.

If you visit the site you can see photos, maps and even find out more about these individuals who are the “hotspots.”

Meet Clarence.

Clarence is from New Orleans, LA. He prefers the term “houseless” to “homeless.” He originally lost his house in Katrina and has had financial trouble since. He considers himself a good guy and tries to be a good friend to people.

So you help Clarence out and he gives you some decent wifi, sounds like a win-win right?

Not everyone thinks so.

Tim Carmody, Wired, writes, “This is my worry: the homeless turned not just into walking, talking hotspots, but walking, talking billboards for a program that doesn’t care anything at all about them or their future, so long as it can score a point or two about digital disruption of old media paradigms.”

John Mitchell, Read Write Web, critizices the wording of the shirts the homeless are given to wear, “The shirt doesn’t say, ‘I have a 4G hotspot.’ It says, ‘I am a 4G hotspot.’”

He has a point. But are we really going to get into a fight over semantics in an otherwise seemingly legitimate campaign to bring awareness to the homeless while bridging the gap between the digital divide?


But I think it is a good thing. If we didn’t questions things, we would lose a lot of the reasons improvements end up being made.

So if you happen to see one of these guys around, take a minute and talk to them. Let us know what you think and they think about the project.

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