AUSTIN, Texas – Homeless people are being turned into walking Wi-Fi aerials as part of a "charitable experiment" by a New York ad agency.
Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty (BBH) handed out free Novatel Wireless MiFi gadgets to the peddlers -- along with T-shirts bearing their names and the words "I'm a 4G hotspot'' -- for its Homeless Hotspots project at the South by Southwest (SXSW) arts and tech festival in Austin, Texas.
The company will promote the concept among homeless shelters in New York City and elsewhere if the response is good, BBH chief Saneel Radia told The New York Post.
"These are homeless individuals. 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," the company said on its website.
"This year in Austin, as you wander between locations murmuring to your coworker about how your connection sucks ... you'll notice strategically positioned individuals wearing 'Homeless Hotspot' T-shirts."
"These are homeless individuals. They're carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network."
- Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty statement
BBH said it simply wanted to offer the homeless a new way to cash in on today's technology.
The homeless are instructed to stand in a certain area and let "customers" come to them. It's suggested that users pay their human service providers $2 per 15 minutes, although any donation is accepted.
Users must be within 30 feet of the human Wi-Fi server to get the service.
Homeless New Yorkers were split over the idea.
"I wouldn't do it because I can make $10 to $12 an hour here panhandling. From that to maybe $2 a person is a long jump," scoffed Robert Johnson, 48, who uses a wheelchair and was working Grand Central.
But homeless man Kevin Tucker, 55, who was shining shoes outside Grand Central, said, "If [Johnson] won't do it, I will!
"I'd do it in a second. Out of every 20 people who sit down at my stand, at least six are on their iPhone or their BlackBerry or something trying to get Internet. I see it as a business opportunity. And you're giving me a shirt, too? I have no problem with it."
Read more on the homeless hotspots program at the New York Post.