Published March 14, 2012
New York – A New York ad agency axed plans to use homeless people as walking Wi-Fi hotspots after a furious backlash by rights advocates and city officials.
After a trial run in Austin, Texas, officials at Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty had hoped originally to roll out their bizarre project in Manhattan.
Emma Cookson, chairman of BBH New York, said, "We have no definite, specific future plans yet, in New York City or elsewhere. This was an initial trial program.
"We are now listening carefully to the high level of feedback, trying to learn and respond, and we will then consider what is appropriate to do next."
The program turned about a dozen homeless people at Austin's South by Southwest Festival into walking Wi-Fi access points.
BBH officials rigged the vagrants with small MiFi devices, along with T-shirts bearing their names and the words, "I'm a 4G hotspot."
Users would ask the homeless hotspot for an access code, and were encouraged to donate $2 to their walking Wi-Fi zone for every 15 minutes spent online.
New Yorkers were shocked by the proposal, and some were even frightened by it.
"New York is a whole different attitude," said Long Island commuter Jimmy Chin. "You can talk to the homeless in D.C. or in Texas, and what might work there will have a completely different effect here," said Chin, describing the homeless in New York City as "far more aggressive."
"Some of these guys stand around arguing with themselves for 15 minutes, and I'm going to go up and ask for Wi-Fi?" said Ken Nelson 35, of Hell's Kitchen. "That's crazy. I can't even believe this is something anyone is considering."
Read more on the controversial program at the New York Post.