Chattanooga Named A 2022 ‘Digital Inclusion Trailblazer’

  • Monday, August 22, 2022

Chattanooga and Hamilton County were named a 2022 Digital Inclusion Trailblazer Monday by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. This is the third time the community has been recognized  for its leadership in digital literacy and equity.

To earn the title, municipalities have to meet a minimum of three criteria to qualify for nomination. Chattanooga-Hamilton County met all six of the Digital Inclusion Trailblazer criteria, alongside 10 other cities across the country.

“Like water or power, the internet has become an essential need for our residents, which is why it’s so important to ensure that everyone, regardless of income or neighborhood, has access,” said Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly. “From HCS EdConnect for school age students to skills programs like EMPACT and Tech Goes Home Chattanooga, we’re proud of the many collaborative service programs in our community that are expanding internet access and advancing digital literacy across the city.” 

“So much of modern life happens online and everyone deserves to fully participate,” Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger agreed. "This county has seen such unparalleled economic development over the last decade and we believe this quality of community support available is a large component of that.”

Trailblazers are judged based on criteria showing a city or county’s digital inclusion leadership, and cities have been vying for a place on the list since the honor was re-launched in 2020 with open applications. Stipulations include having full-time local government staff, a digital inclusion plan, an open-access coalition, survey research, funded digital inclusion programming and efforts to increase affordability of home broadband service.

“Chattanooga was uniquely prepared to address the digital divide for every student in need quickly, affordably and in a lasting way when the pandemic began,” said EPB Director of Government Relations Evann Freeman of EPB’s community-wide fiber optic network that launched in 2010. “We're proud to have been part of this collaboration with the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County to ensure children, regardless of income, could continue their education remotely and without interruption.”

HCS EdConnect, a partnership between the city, county, Hamilton County Schools, EPB and The Enterprise Center that provides high speed broadband service to HCS students and their families, was a key component to receiving the Trailblazer distinction.

“Closing the digital divide for our students can be life changing, not just for them but for their entire families,” explained HCS Superintendent Dr. Justin Robertson. “Our teachers can connect not only with their classes more easily, but also with parents. These moments of connection might feel incremental but they contribute to the overall success of individual students in profound and lasting ways.”

The six criteria also provide cities and counties that are just getting started an effective pathway for digital inclusion activities , as well as examples of how other Trailblazers are creating successful programs for their communities, said The Enterprise Center CEO Deb Socia.

“As a nonprofit focused on digital equity, our goal is always to work with trusted community partners to create sustainable programming Chattanooga residents can rely on,” she said. “We strive to be a community leader for long term programming like HCS EdConnect and Tech Goes Home – and to make these programs as simple to enroll in as possible to eliminate barriers to access. We’re proud to have earned this Trailblazer distinction and are eager to scale this work.”

As the bi-partisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act continues to roll out, city and county digital inclusion leadership, like Chattanooga and Hamilton County’s, will continue to become more necessary and influential. 

With $65 billion in federal funding available for broadband deployment, affordability and digital literacy through bi-partisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, closing the digital divide once and for all has never been more possible — and Chattanooga and Hamilton County's leadership continues to set the national standard, said officials. 

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