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Chattanooga, Tenn., Recognized for Digital Inclusion Work

Chattanooga, which pioneered the first citywide gigabit-per-second broadband service a decade ago by the city-owned utility EPB, was the smallest among the cities selected for the annual honor.

by Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times / May 12, 2020

(TNS) — Chattanooga, Tenn., is among 14 municipal governments across the country recognized as a Digital Inclusion Trailblazer in 2020.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance recognized the cities for their efforts to provide broadband services and promote access to high-speed internet as widely as possible.

Chattanooga, which pioneered the first citywide gigabyte-per-second broadband service a decade ago by the city-owned utility EPB, was the smallest among the cities selected for the annual honor. Other cities on the list included New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C, and Austin, Texas.

"NDIA strongly believes that local communities are where real digital inclusion happens, and local government leadership is one of the keys to making it happen," said NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer in announcing the 2020 Digital Inclusion Trailblazers. "The COVID-19 crisis has made communities throughout the country painfully aware of the digital divides separating their citizens, and why those divides are damaging — to education, to economic opportunity and employment, to healthcare, and to civic and social connections."

Chattanooga has tried to promote widespread digital access through government and business support of Tech Goes Home, a nonprofit that works with schools, churches, and other organizations to help residents learn digital literacy skills and get a subsidized computer, and the Enterprise Center, a city-backed agency that works to promote the Innovation District and other technology initiatives.

"Internet connection and digital literacy are no longer seen as a luxury; they are a necessity to participate in modern life," Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said. "In Chattanooga, we believe everyone should have access to those resources."

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger also sees digital inclusion as an important component in economic mobility in the region.

"So much of modern life happens online, which is why Hamilton County has put such an emphasis on working to ensure everyone has the means to fully participate," Coppinger said. "We believe this is a principal reason why Hamilton County has seen such unparalleled economic development over the last decade."

One key advantage for Chattanooga is the presence of EPB, the municipally-owned utility that makes up to 10 Gig internet speeds accessible to the 170,000 homes and businesses in its service area. Backed by an $111.6 million federal stimulus grant a decade ago, EPB built the nation's first fiber optic, high-speed broadband to an entire 600-square-mile region.

"Chattanooga's fiber-to-the-home network is a platform for helping people realize their full potential both educationally and economically," EPB President David Wade said.

©2020 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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