For the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive event in Austin, BBH Labs came up with an unusual way to make sure everyone could access the internet – by logging into a 4G network provided by a homeless person.
Homeless people in the Case Management program at Front Steps Shelter could be found wearing ‘homeless hotspot’ T-shirts and carrying MiFi devices. Users log on to the 4G network via their phone or tablet, paying the person for the usage, with Paypal being the preferred method. All the money goes to the homeless person.
BBH has received several complaints about the system, with people saying that it exploits the homeless, and the fact that the T-shirts say ‘I am a 4G hotspot’, not ‘I have a 4G hotspot’.
The agency has now commented, saying: “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. It’s unfortunate how much information being shared is incorrect (an unresearched story by ReadWriteWeb, which has now been updated is the epicenter of that misinformation). So, without being defensive (we welcome the educated critiques), we wanted to share a few key facts:
“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).
“The biggest criticism (which we agree with actually) is that Street Newspapers allow for content creation by the homeless (we encourage those to research this a bit more as it certainly does not work exactly as you would assume). This is definitely a part of the vision of the program but alas we could not afford to create a custom log-in page because it’s through a device we didn’t make. However, we’d really like to see iterations of the program in which this media channel of hotspots is owned by the homeless organizations and used as a platform for them to create content.”
What do you think of BBH’s idea?