Nearly 30 percent of American households do not have Internet access, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau. Those Americans with no online connectivity are disproportionately old, black or Hispanic, poorly educated, and low income. Local statistics are even more alarming when it comes to the kind of connection needed for data-intensive applications. In some low-income Chattanooga neighborhoods, broadband Internet adoption is less than 20 percent. If Chattanooga is truly going to be the Gigabit City, then the internet must be accessible to all Chattanoogans, not just those who live in digital gated communities.
What was the problem?
What is the solution?
Through a coordinated approach, more people are getting connected to high speed broadband to unlock the potential of all Chattanoogans. Low cost, ultra high speed broadband, a Google Chromebook, and nine weeks of education classes for Chattanooga residents are being provided to ensure they are not left out of the digital economy.
By providing access to information, connecting people to businesses, and opening up new markets, the internet is changing the economy and supporting economic development. Moreover, access to the world wide web is becoming more and more critical to the quality of life.
Municipally owned broadband as infrastructure, and increasing usage to broaden equality, is at the forefront of
the new economy. High speed broadband gives our mid-sized city one of the best locations to innovate and to test the ideas of tomorrow. However, we need to make sure we have a citizenry who can access those jobs, as well as connecting consumers to the markets created by the groundbreaking network.
Low cost internet begins to break down the barriers that could lead to digital gated communities. But it’s not just access -- we also have to be able to use the web. For example, we know far too many low income students now have access to tablets and laptops but do not use them at home. Participants in Chattanooga’s program learn how to submit a resume online, open an email account, and set good rules about internet usage for minors in their home. In addition to building economic potential, the program provides participants with several social skills that will improve their life through access to the internet -- how to pay bills, create an event flyer, and use the cloud to share documents, photos, and videos.
Chattanooga has EPB, a municipally owned electric utility with a fiber optic network that runs to every home and business in a 600 square mile area. With speeds up to one gigabit per second, the city has a community asset that can ensure digital opportunity is spread throughout the neighborhood.
EPB offers 100 megabits per second of internet (faster than most any regularly available connection) to the families of any Title 1 student at $26.99 per month. The initiative, called Netbridge, was rolled out in the schools at class registration. Chattanooga has also partnered with the Enterprise Center, a non-profit recently reorganized principally by city government, to begin Tech Goes Home. Those classes being offered around the community are aimed at increasing usage and literacy on the web, not just access. Tech Goes Home is also receiving funding from the county government, foundations, and local businesses to ensure it becomes ingrained in the community.
The number of families who sign up for Netbridge is tracked through the subscribership. Tech Goes Home has already been a huge hit with citizens, with classes filling up quickly. The goal is to have 2000 participants in the next 2 years.
These initiatives are based on community effort. EPB, the Enterprise Center, local philanthropy, schools -- all of the resources must be brought to bear to tackle this problem. A huge segment of Chattanooga believes it should be the first to make inroads on digital equity.
In addition, Chattanooga has been an active player with the Federal Communications Commission in discussing how public broadband can be instrumental in our country’s future. In addition, the city is actively pursuing funding for projects through FCC sources.
Where It's Working
Resources for Action
National Cable and Telecommunications Association