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Chattanooga connectivity initiative closes the digital divide in schools

The programme, which launched last year, has installed the internet at no charge in the homes of more than a third of all Hamilton County Schools students.

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 Partners have provided $7.9m to cover upfront infrastructure costs for the programme
Partners have provided $7.9m to cover upfront infrastructure costs for the programme

Chattanooga has joined a handful of US cities considered to be at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to close the digital divide, following the take-up of an initiative, last year, to provide free internet access to students.

 

Before introduction of the HCS EdConnect programme, which builds on existing infrastructure, officials estimated that up to one-third of Hamilton County Schools’ students did not have internet access at home.

 

Internet access

 

More than 14,000 students have enrolled, who together with their household members, represent more than 25,000 people who now have internet access through HCS EdConnect, reports service provider EPB. HCS EdConnect is possible because EPB deployed a ubiquitous, community-wide fibre optic network which passes every premise in 2010.

 

Students who are on free or reduced lunch or whose families receive SNAP benefits are eligible for the programme, which installs internet service with at least 100 Mbps from EPB in each qualifying child’s home.

 

Chattanooga said it is taking the most comprehensive approach with a commitment to continuing the programme for at least 10 years while providing a connection at least twice as fast as typical educational access offerings from other providers with symmetrical speeds (same speed for uploads and downloads) and no data caps.

“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”

“We are showing the rest of the country what it looks like to close the digital divide in education,” said Tim Kelly, mayor of Chattanooga. “HCS EdConnect is a comprehensive solution, and since the partners have made a 10-year commitment to the programme, this will be a lasting solution.”

 

EPB claims HCS EdConnect has been recognised by, among others, Bloomberg, US News & World Report, and Vox, as a model programme. The provider reports the programme also has the chance to deepen understanding of how internet access can impact individual learning outcomes and the local economy, as programme partners have engaged researchers from Boston College to study the impact of HCS EdConnect.

 

“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 prioritised closing the digital divide in the midst of global pandemic” said Dr Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools.

 

“Private and public partnership was a critical part of this programme being possible and we will continue to seek community partners who can join us in helping all children thrive and experience a future without limits.”

 

Infrastructure costs

 

Funding partners have provided $7.9m to cover upfront infrastructure costs for the programme including additional equipment, fibre optic drops and wireless routers. HCS EdConnect is a public-private partnership made possible through support and engagement from 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, Lyndhurst Foundation, private donors, and Cares funding from the State of Tennessee.

 

Other cities named in the press statement that have launched programmes, in the last year, aimed at closing the digital divide include: Chicago, Detroit, San Antonio, and Washington DC.

 

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