The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Homeless People To Be SXSW 4G Hotspots
The Quietus , March 12th, 2012 10:51

Local street homeless people turned into 4G hotspots for web-hungry South By Southwest punters

In a bizarre story that on initial inspection reads more like biting satire than the genuine article - we're still half-expecting a follow-up that debunks the entire thing to drop in our inbox any second - homeless people in Austin, TX, are being transformed into 4G hotspots for this year's edition of South By Southwest, which kicks off this week. Advertising agency BBH have launched the initiative, named Homeless Hotspots, reports The Stool Pigeon (via Wired). It's set to take place at this year's festival, providing a perfect on the move fix for the legions of net-hungry, Tumblr-tooled media types stumbling around the city's streets, anxiously cobbling together copy about the latest basement buzz band.

In a web-age update of the Big Issue model - it is 2012, after all - Homeless Hotspots aims to turn local homeless people from paper sellers into digital service providers. "As digital media proliferates, these newspapers face increased pressure," says a statement on their website, which also features biographies of individual participants' hotspots. "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."

Individual participants carry around a MiFi device which interested users can then log on to. Before gaining access they either pay the carrier in cash or, astonishingly, through PayPal - a team will track where the transaction was made, and pay the homeless person concerned.

A fair enough scheme, perhaps, though rather more controversially participants are required to wear a t-shirt proclaiming that "I am a 4G hotspot". Critics have already commented that it dehumanises the person wearing the t-shirt, turning them into something equivalent to a walking, talking wireless router. Still, the whole thing represents a pretty intriguing attempt to drag the Big Issue street selling approach kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below.