EPB honored for free internet initiative
Tennessee-based energy provider EPB, along with its partners, has received this year’s Sue Kelly Community Service Award from the American Public Power Association (APPA) for an initiative that provides free internet to students studying at home.
EPB serves the greater Chattanooga area delivering electricity to more than 170,000 homes and businesses across a 600-square-mile service area that includes most of Hamilton County as well as parts of surrounding counties in both Tennessee and Georgia.
Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began, EPB joined Hamilton County Schools, the City of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, The Enterprise Center, Hamilton County Schools, and other public and private community partners to address the need for at-home learners to have access to high-speed internet regardless of their financial position. Together, they formed HCS EdConnect, a program that provides fiber optic internet services to economically disadvantaged K-12 students in the Hamilton County School System at no charge.
HCS EdConnect launched in July 2020, with more than 14,000 students—more than a third of all Hamilton County students and their families—connecting since the program’s inception. Qualifying families receive broadband internet that’s 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. Families can keep their connection year-round for up to 10 years so long as they qualify.
As part of the program, EPB also installs a Wi-Fi 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 Joy Ditto, president and CEO of APPA. “They are a community partner that is deeply invested in Chattanooga. That’s what this award is all about.”
To make the initiative possible, funding partners have provided $7.9 million to cover upfront infrastructure costs including equipment, fiber optic drops and wireless routers. Additional public and private partners in HCS EdConnect partners include 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.