Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Public-Private Partnership to Provide High-Speed Internet to Disadvantaged Students

Published on August 19, 2020

Chattanooga, Tennesse’s municipally owned and operated electric and internet service provider, EPB, is home to America’s fastest internet service. Chattanooga’s co-op based internet access has launched the community into a vibrant business hub and created thousands of new jobs. EPB is now working with community partners in expanding internet access to disadvantaged students during the Coronavirus crisis.

Schools across the country are re-opening this Fall and concerns for safety are at all-time highs due to the Coronavirus crisis. With the federal government urging schools to reopen, state and local officials are tasked with making this transition smoothly and safely.

Recent data from the National Center For Education Statistics shows that at least nine million students lack internet access at home. Given the recent shift to online education due to COVID-19, reliable internet access remains a growing concern for many.

EPB is Tackling COVID Head-On

EPB is taking its world-class internet service a step further and launching a public-private partnership. This partnership will ensure that 28,000 students who are eligible for the federal free and reduced price school meals are eligible to receive a high-speed internet connection along with a Wi-Fi router at no cost. “We believe we are the first community in the United States to work together to provide all economically disadvantaged students, which is 2/3 of the student population, across an entire school system with a fiber-to-the-home internet connection, thanks to funding from community partners,” says EPB Public Relations Coordinator, Scottie Summerlin.

The project has already raised $6 million of the $8.2 million needed to fund the initial investment. If all funding is met, the program will remain in place for 10 years. The goal is to help economically disadvantaged families bridge the technological divide. Hamilton County Mayor, Jim Coppinger said in a recent press release, “We’re meeting the challenges of the COVID crisis head-on by creating this innovative new program to ensure that our students have the connectivity they need to excel in the short-term and for the foreseeable future.”

Co-Op Internet Service Providers Work For Their Community

This progressive step in an unprecedented time shows how a municipally-owned service provider is supporting its community members. This goes to show the importance of locally owned internet service providers in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Roy Vaughn, Executive Director of the BlueCross Foundation, has said, “This program will help Hamilton County students keep learning in today’s unique environment — and beyond — and help address the societal inequities that make it difficult for families to thrive.”

A Pew Research study in April showed 53 percent of Americans believe the internet is essential during this pandemic, but only 37 percent of Americans believe the government should provide high-speed internet connection at home. Partisan differences are clearly visible in this data. The study shows 52 percent of Democratic-leaning voters believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to provide internet access. Only 22 percent of Republican-leaning voters say the same.

In a rapidly advancing world, the importance of internet connection at home is growing more vital by the day. In the United States, the calls for internet access as a utility are increasing as well. As the wealthiest nation in history, American citizens deserve internet access in the 21st century. Partisan differences aside, government-sponsored access to high-speed internet will provide American’s with more opportunities for education, occupation, and comfort.

Artin is a Champlain College graduate with a degree in Management and Innovation. He is focused on examining and writing on smart cities, sociocultural, political, and economic topics.

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