Hamilton County to invest in high-speed internet for 28,000 public school students

    Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences, Lower School (Photo: Chattanooga Schools)
    Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences, Lower School (Photo: Chattanooga Schools)

    Low-income families with children in Chattanooga Hamilton County public schools will get access to high-speed internet services under a plan announced Wednesday by city and county leaders.

    The investment, estimated at $8.2 million over the next ten years, is a first-of-its-kind effort by any U.S. municipality to provide free broadband services to any family with a child who qualifies under federal guidelines for free or reduced price school lunches, according to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. That’s the benchmark that school districts use across the country to measure student poverty rates.

    Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke (Photo: Chattanooga.gov)
    Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke (Photo: Chattanooga.gov)

    Local officials have raised $6 million thus far, with immediate plans to begin installing service. The plan, dubbed HCS EdConnect, is feasible only because the Chattanooga area is served by a 100% fiber-to-home network, built in 2010, that lies in proximity to every home and business.

    The plan is designed not only to position Hamilton County for remote learning and ongoing digital access for students, said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

    Internet service will also be available to everyone in an estimated 17,000 households, enabling adults in the home to pay bills online or access job applications, Berke said.

    To fund the access, the city and county are each contributing $1.5 million, the school district is contributing $1 million from federal COVID-19 relief dollars and an additional $1 million is coming from charitable sources including the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation and the Smart City Venture Fund.

    The infrastructure improvements required will take at least several months to implement. Meanwhile, public schools are scheduled to resume August 12 and school officials are still formulating their re-opening plan. Last spring, several internet hotspot devices were installed in communities with the biggest internet gaps.