By Mary Helen Montgomery
CHATTANOOGA, TN — The City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County have together been named a “Digital Inclusion Trailblazer” by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. The recognition was given to 16 communities across the country whose local governments promote digital literacy and broadband access.
Chattanooga and Hamilton County are in the company of cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Boston. The recognition is based on six indicators that reflect each government’s commitment to digital equity, including whether there is devoted staff and whether internet access is affordable. Chattanooga and Hamilton County were one of just three communities to receive checks in all six categories. This is the second year in a row that Chattanooga and Hamilton County were named a Trailblazer.
“Everyone in Hamilton County deserves reliable, high-speed internet, and we have now been working hard for several years to ensure that access. We have made considerable progress, thanks to the infrastructure put in place by EPB and programs like HCS EdConnect and Tech Goes Home, and we will continue to work until everyone has the access they deserve,” said Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.
“We are committed to making sure that every Chattanoogan, regardless of income or neighborhood, has access to technology,” said Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly. “We still have work to do, but this recognition is a reminder that others look to our community as a leader in digital equity.”
In the last year, Chattanooga and Hamilton County have been recognized as leaders in digital inclusion by national media, largely thanks to the groundbreaking program HCS EdConnect, powered by EPB, which delivers high-speed internet at no cost to the home of any student who qualifies based on income. So far, more than one-third of Hamilton County students are enrolled in the program.
However, Chattanooga and Hamilton County’s commitment to digital inclusion goes beyond HCS EdConnect. In 2014, The City of Chattanooga created a digital equity plan and tasked The Enterprise Center with leading the work. Since then, more than 5,500 people have graduated from The Enterprise Center’s digital inclusion program, Tech Goes Home, which teaches digital literacy and provides each graduate with a subsidized laptop. The Enterprise Center also works with Hamilton County Schools to put high-tech, gig-enabled equipment in classrooms across the district. Additionally, over the last year, The Enterprise Center has worked with EPB to set up 125 public WiFi hotspots in the Hamilton County neighborhoods with the lowest rates of home internet.
“There are two things that allow us to lead in the space of digital equity — the fiber optic network, which is an amazing asset, but just as important, we have a community that is deeply committed to collaboration and to getting the work done,” said Deb Socia, president and CEO of The Enterprise Center.