Hamilton County Schools (HCS) in Tennessee has teamed up with EPB of Chattanooga and other community partners to provide students with internet access for online learning as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
HCS EdConnect, powered by EPB, is a new initiative that will provide internet services to about 28,500 economically challenged students in Hamilton County Schools in the greater Chattanooga area at no charge to the family. The partnership is the first time a U.S. community is bridging the digital divide for education by providing a high-quality broadband solution to all students in need.
Families in the EPB service area with students who participate in HCS EdConnect will receive a router and at least 100 Mbps internet service at no charge to them. This internet service is at least four times faster than typical educational access offerings from other providers, and it is the only one that delivers symmetrical speeds with no data caps.
As a result, HCS EdConnect families will have more than enough broadband capacity and data to participate in video-based learning and other high bandwidth educational applications. The program is structured such that qualified students will maintain their internet services at no charge for at least ten years if the partnership reaches its full fund-raising goal.
The Chattanooga area is served by a 100% fiber-to-the-home network built by EPB that passes every home and business, making HCS EdConnect possible.
Community partnerships have allowed Hamilton County Schools to raise $6 million toward the upfront infrastructure investment of $8.2 million necessary for the additional infrastructure and equipment needed at the outset of the project.
Thus far, the funding partners for HCS EdConnect include Hamilton County, the City of Chattanooga, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation, and the Smart City Venture Fund, which includes Benwood Foundation, Community Foundation, Footprint Foundation, and Robert L. And Katherina Maclellan Foundation.
Based on the funding they have already received, Hamilton County Schools has begun outreach to eligible students in the district. Eligibility to participate is determined by the benchmarks for economic disadvantage set by the state of Tennessee.
Because HCS EdConnect provides for the installation of additional equipment, including a WiFi router to ensure a high-quality internet service with ready-to-use WiFi access, and school begins August 12, the offering is being rolled out as quickly as possible over the next several months until all students have access.
Parents will be contacted by Hamilton County Schools using calls, text, and email. Once the family receives information about the program from the district, parents will have the opportunity to opt-in, and EPB will contact them to set up the service.