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In a head-scratching initiative that kicked off during this month’s South By Southwest festival, New York marketing company Bartle Bogle Hogarty has given out 4G hotspots to homeless people along with a promotional T-shirt that says, “I Am a 4G Hotspot.”

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Dubbed the Homeless Hotspots Project, the gist is that you can pay a small fee to one of the homeless persons from the Front Steps Shelter who are carrying 4G-to-WiFi devices. Then you can sit near one of them and access the Internet.

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The effort has already received a fair amount of criticism with some wondering why the T-shirts don’t say, “I Manage a 4G Hotspot” instead of the current “I Am a 4G Hotspot.” The latter seems more than a bit dehumanizing, or as a writer on the New York Times SXSW Tumblr put it:

“It is a neat idea on a practical level, but also a little dystopian. When the infrastructure fails us… we turn human beings into infrastructure?”

But BBH asserts that the effort merely piggybacks on the tradition of the street newspaper. But instead of homeless people hawking printed material for money, this initiative, BBH claims, is a way to modernize that model so that passersby can fork over money for access to online content.

The approach is explained on the homepage:

“Homeless Hotspots is a charitable innovation initiative by BBH New York. It attempts to modernize the Street Newspaper model employed to support homeless populations. As digital media proliferates, these newspapers face increased pressure. 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.”

So if you’re in Austin, Tex., attending SXSW and you’re looking to check your e-mail, you can introduce yourself to one of projects’ participants and pay whatever you like with cash or via PayPal link on the Homeless Hotspots website.

The agency tracks the donation and the money goes directly to the homeless person who helped make the web connection.

Let us know in the comments.


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Brett Johnson is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer and the founder of the music and culture blog