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HCS EdConnect Brings Internet Access to 25,000 Chattanoogans

A public-private program launched last year has helped thousands of students in Tennessee’s Hamilton County Schools acquire reliable Internet, building upon existing fiber-optic networks in Chattanooga.

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Chattanooga has joined other municipalities leading the nation in efforts to close the digital divide through an initiative launched last year to provide Internet access to students in Hamilton County Schools, building upon existing infrastructure.

According to a news release this week, telecommunications company EPB installed free high-speed Internet for more than a third of the district’s students using a fiber-optic network deployed by the company throughout the district in 2010.

The program, dubbed HCS EdConnect, now serves more than 14,000 students and 11,000 household members who had little to no Internet access needed for virtual learning.

“For the next decade and hopefully beyond, HCS EdConnect will provide high-speed Internet access to nearly 30,000 economically disadvantaged students as well as their families, and I’m proud to be part of a community who prioritized closing the digital divide in the midst of a global pandemic,” Hamilton Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson said in a public statement.

According to EPB, students enrolled in free or reduced lunch at HCS, or whose families receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, are eligible for the program, which will be in place for at least 10 years. The fiber-optic Internet program follows similar efforts in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, San Antonio and Washington, D.C., during the pandemic.

The company’s news release said HCS EdConnect was made possible through $7.9 million for additional equipment, including fiber-optic drops and wireless routers. The program was implemented through a partnership between Hamilton County, Hamilton County Schools, the city of Chattanooga, EPB, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, The Benwood Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, the Footprint Foundation, The Maclellan Foundation, the Lyndhurst Foundation, private donors and CARES Act funding from the state of Tennessee.