Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) update with Austin MN

It’s always rewarding to hear what’s happening on the frontlines of digital equity in Minnesota and I had a chance to do that with Jennifer Sims, who is managing the Austin BBC initiative. Jennifer comes from education and Adult Basic Education (ABE) background, which sounds like a fantastic fit for the role. She has the skills and knows the target audience. That audience includes families with kids, seniors and a school district where 48 languages are spoken.

They have done an event with PCs for People distributing refurbished computers. They distributed 50 computers. A unique challenge for the area is the diversity of languages and number of English learners, especially when it comes to filling out the necessary paperwork to get the PC. So, before the distribution event, Austin held an event at the community college to fill out forms in advance; 20 people showed up and were ready for the distribution event with paperwork in hand.

Jennifer is new to the project. She has started planning with focus groups. She started the first focus group at summer block parties with Austin Aspires (BBC sponsor). She also is working through local agencies to meet folks for the focus groups. She has learned a lot; here are a couple of examples:

    • Helping people access the Affordable Care Program funds, she found that Spectrum requires that anyone who has been an existing customer for 30 days or more, has to end their current services and reapply if they intend on using ACP.
    • Parents want training or rules to help them manage technology access for their kids. It’s difficult when the technology is new to them. For example, parents found that YouTube for Kids, isn’t always safe for kids.
    • It has been tough to get seniors to participate in focus groups. But she has a plan to lure folks in with games/trivia opportunities.



Work with local companies

This entry was posted in bbc, Digital Divide, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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