Chattanooga, TN (June 30, 2021) – EPB and our HCS EdConnect partners received the American Public Power Association (APPA) “Sue Kelly” Community Service Award on June 22 at the APPA National Conference in Orlando, Florida. This award recognizes “good neighbor” activities that demonstrate the commitment of the utility and its employees to the community.
Not long after the COVID-19 pandemic began, EPB joined with Hamilton County Schools, the City of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, The Enterprise Center and other public and private community partners to address a rising crisis – the need for at-home learners to have access to high-speed internet regardless of their financial position. The result was the formation of HCS EdConnect, a program that provides fiber optic internet services to every economically disadvantaged K-12 student in the Hamilton County School system at no charge.
The program officially launched in July of 2020. Qualifying families receive broadband internet, that is at least twice as fast as typical educational access offerings from other providers, with symmetrical upload and download speeds and no data caps provided through EPB’s 100 percent fiber-optic network. As part of the program, EPB also professionally installs a WiFi router at no charge and helps set up each student’s learning devices.
“EPB stepped up during the pandemic to prove that they are more than a local utility service provider,” said APPA President & CEO Joy Ditto. “They are a community partner that is deeply invested in Chattanooga. That’s what this award is all about.”
More than 14,000 students so far have been connected to HCS EdConnect at no charge – more than one third of all Hamilton County Schools students in the district and including their families, represents more than 25,000 individuals. These families are able to keep their high-speed internet connection year-round for up to 10 years as long as they continue to qualify for the program. EPB and our HCS EdConnect partners have already begun enrolling new students to join the program for the 2021-2022 school year.
“We’re proud that Chattanooga is being recognized nationally for decreasing the digital divide in our Gig City using a model that other cities can replicate,” said Evann Freeman, EPB Director of Government Relations. “Our HCS EdConnect partners are happy to share our process with other municipalities to help them decrease the digital divide in their communities.”
Funding partners have provided $7.9 million to cover upfront infrastructure costs including additional equipment, fiber optic drops and wireless routers. HCS EdConnect partners include Hamilton County, City of Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools, The Enterprise Center, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Benwood Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Footprint Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, Maclellan Foundation and CARES funding from the State of Tennessee. APPA recognizes excellence in electric utility operations and public power leadership at its annual awards ceremony. EPB was one of 11 utilities and 22 individuals recognized for service in the public power industry.