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Turning the Homeless Into 4G Hotspots at SXSW

Published: March 13, 2012
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Source: Yahoo News

It sounds like a headline from The Onion, but it's true: A project called "Homeless Hotspots" is turning homeless Austin residents into mobile wireless hotspots outside the South by Southwest convention center.

It's part marketing stunt, part genuine charitable initiative -- and it's generating lots of double-takes and chatter from those who pass by.

"I'm Melvin, a 4G hotspot," reads the T-shirt of participant Melvin Hughes. "SMS HH Melvin to 25827 for access."

Hughes is carrying a Verizon MiFi 4G hotspot. Texting his code sends back his network password, which the recipient can use to suck down a few minutes of fast broadband access -- a scarce commodity at SXSW, a tech/film/music gathering that has drawn more than 20,000 visitors to Austin, Texas.

Access is pay-what-you-want, though $2 per 15 minutes is the suggested donation, payable through Paypal or Venmo. BBH Labs, the project's organizer, says it will pay all the proceeds directly to the participant who made the sale.

Reactions are definitely mixed, Hughes says. He's handed out hundreds of cards explaining the project, and says a few dozen people have actually logged on.

"Some people want nothing to do with it, for whatever reason," he says. "I think it's a great thing. It's an opportunity."

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