EPB, Hamilton County schools hope to “bridge the digital divide”

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – Thanks to a partnership between EPB and Hamilton County Schools, lower income students will have access to free broadband internet.

Through EdConnect, students who qualify for free or reduced lunch can
qualify for the free service, and so far, about a third of Hamilton
County students have benefited.

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“We go in those homes and connect the families that qualify for our
program. So for at least ten years, we provide 100-meg symmetrical
speeds to those families at no cost to them,” says Evann Freeman, EPB Director of Government Relations.

The program started at the onset of the pandemic, when students with
no internet access were threatened with falling behind in their
studies.

Today, EPB and Hamilton County Schools are pledging $8 million dollars
to expand the program over the next decade.

“We do some digital skills training so we’re helping parents
understand, for example, how do you connect to the school’s portal so
you can stay in communication with your child’s teacher,” says Deb Socia with The Enterprise Center, another partner with the project.

Socia says the benefit reaches beyond just students.

“We figured there were about twenty-five thousand people impacted by
access to Broadband right now because of EdConnect,” she says.

Hamilton County superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson says the program has
played an important role in bridging what he calls a digital divide
among lower income students.

“When the pandemic hit, it really made very clear that there was a
digital divide. This was a solution that we’re able to stand up really
quickly in partnership with EPB and the city and the county and so
many philanthropic partners in the state to ensure that our students
were supported,” says Dr. Johnson.