Updated September 4th, 2020
What is HCS EdConnect?
Through a public-private partnership with our community, Hamilton County Schools (HCS) and EPB will implement a program to provide economically challenged students within EPB’s service area, with access to fiber-fast home internet this school year – at no charge to them.
This program helps ensure that no child is left behind as schools continue to provide online learning as we deal with the effects of the COVID crisis.
Additionally, this will be funded with the support of our partners for the next 10 years without any impact to EPB’s operation or the pricing of our services to our other customers.
Who is eligible?
Students who qualify for SNAP benefits or the Federal Free & Reduced Meals program, based on their income, can participate in the program.
At CEP schools, every family will receive an opt-in survey, but they should only opt-in if they qualify as economically disadvantaged. By opting in to the EdConnect program, families are confirming that they qualify.
HCS is solely responsible for determining who is qualified. Any questions about qualification should be referred back to the principal of your children’s schools.
Are families with Pre-K students eligible to participate?
At this time, EdConnect is only available to families with children who are in grades K-12 in a Hamilton County School.
What do qualified participants receive?
(1) 100 Mbps internet service with symmetrical speeds and no data caps, at no charge. This is at least four times faster than typical educational assistance internet services, and HCS EdConnect is more than fast enough for video-based learning.
(2) A WiFi router, also at no charge. Installation will all be completed by EPB professionals.
How do I enroll?
In order to receive service through HCS EdConnect, families must opt in by responding to a survey from HCS or when contacted directly by their child’s school.
Hamilton County Schools determines program eligibility based on the information provided to the district by each family. If your family qualifies, HCS sent both emails and texts throughout August asking you to opt in. Eligible families who have not responded to the email or text from the district will be contacted directly by their schools beginning in early September, as well as continue to receive communications from HCS.
In order to schedule installation, please wait 24 hours after responding to a phone or email survey or 3 days after responding to a paper survey before calling the EPB Call Center at (423) 648-1372. (This is to allow for enough to time to update your eligibility status with EPB.)
What if I did not receive an email or text message from HCS in August?
If possible, make sure your contact information is up-to-date in PowerSchool or please contact your child’s school. Your child’s school staff will be able to help you update your information if you are having trouble accessing PowerSchool.
If you are new to the district (including if your student is in Kindergarten), and you do not attend a CEP school where all students automatically receive Free & Reduced Lunch, you will need to turn in an application for the Free & Reduced Lunch Program to become eligible.
If you have questions about your eligibility or need help with the Free & Reduced Lunch application, please contact your child’s school.
What happens after I opt-in?
After you have completed the opt-in survey and waiting 24 hours for your information to be sent to EPB, you can call to EPB directly to schedule installation: (423) 648-1372.
When customers call EPB, they will check the opt-in list:
- If they are on the opt-in list, EPB will schedule service.
- If they are not yet on the opt-in list, EPB will direct them to contact their child’s school for more information.
EPB will also do periodic robo-calls to families who have opted in but not yet contacted them, asking families to stay on the line to schedule service.
Will EPB call me once I respond to the survey?
No. Your family MUST contact EPB first to arrange for service or to schedule installation. You can contact the EPB Call Center by calling (423) 648-1372. This phone line is operational 24 hours a day, so you can call whenever is convenient for you.
Please wait 24 hours after responding to a digital survey (phone or email) or 3 days after responding to a paper survey before calling EPB.
How long will it take to receive service?
This is a brand-new program and EPB is working hard to get it rolled out as quickly as possible; more than 17,000 households qualify for service.
- Some installations are easy and can be completed in a day or two.
- Some installations are more complex and require additional equipment, which will take more time.
Our goal is to provide all eligible customers with a high-quality internet service with ready-to-use WiFi access that will handle their educational needs as quickly as possible.
Until families are installed on HCS EdConnect, they have the option to use the EPB Quick Connect WiFi hotspots installed across the community, along with other options for free public WiFi. See the Tech Goes Home map of EPB hotspots and other public WiFi locations for a complete list. for a complete list.
What is the cost?
Eligible participants receive the service at no charge. It is made possible by funding through a public-private community partnership.
I qualify, but already pay for EPB internet service. Can I still participate?
Yes. Eligible customers with paid internet services today can move to this program and eliminate their internet costs.
Can I keep my internet service over the summer?
Yes, qualified customers may keep their HCS EdConnect internet year-round as long as they continue to be eligible based on their income. Customers will be required to re-qualify at the beginning of each school year.
I currently have a past-due amount on my EPB services or have been cut off for nonpayment. Can I still sign up?
Yes, customers can sign up for this program as long as they qualify.
HCS EdConnect internet services will not be cut-off for non-payment of any outstanding EPB Fiber Optics internet bills. However, customers must stay current with their EPB electric bill to maintain their service because the HCS EdConnect router requires electricity to access the internet.
If you have an outstanding electric bill it is very important for you to call EPB at (423) 648-1372 right away and make payment arrangements to ensure the continuity of their services. EPB will refer customers with outstanding bills to sources of assistance. EPB will also work with customers to set up a payment plan, so customers can keep their power on while catching up on past due bills over time.
Even though EPB temporarily suspended disconnections and waived late fees for non-payment at the beginning of the COVID crisis, they are legally required to charge for their services. At this time, they have not yet resumed disconnections for non-payment, but they will have to return to normal business practices soon.
Can I add TV to my HCS EdConnect service?
Yes, customers can sign up for Fi TV and any of our existing channel tiers – just like they do today.
What happens to families who qualify who already have EPB internet, but it’s bundled with their cable? What will enrolling in this program do to their bill?
Families who are already EPB customers will absolutely be able to enroll in this program. If your internet is bundled with the cost of TV and other services, enrolling in the EdConnect program will reduce the cost of your services by the amount you pay for internet ($57.99 for basic internet or $67.99 if you have the Gig). Depending on the number of other services bundled, the cost of those services may increase minimally — but the new bundle cost will be much less than the previous cost.
If I fall behind on my TV or phone services with EPB, can I still keep my HCS EdConnect Service?
Customers will be treated according to our existing policies for their paid services. However, regardless of their current standing, we will not cut off their HCS EdConnect internet service.
How do HCS EdConnect customers get Tech Support?
For issues with their HCS EdConnect router or connectivity problems, please contact EPB — (423) 648-1372 — anytime.
If customers have questions about their school-assigned Chromebooks or any applications on them, they will need to contact the HCS tech support hotline — (423) 493-0350 — Monday to Friday, 7 am to 3:30 p.m.
How long will the program last?
Hamilton County Schools and EPB have committed to working together to continue the service for 10 years, so this is a lasting solution for bridging the digital divide for education.
Will families have to apply every year?
No, but they will have to requalify every year.
For people who are already on the program who are still qualified at the outset of the next year, their service will continue.
Families that experience enough economic gain such that they are no longer qualified will not be eligible to continue to participate.
What happens when a family’s youngest child graduates high school?
Once a student graduates from high school, they are no longer eligible for this program and the household will either be disconnected or can opt in to ongoing paid service.
Are there any HCS students outside of the service area?
There are some families in Ooltewah, Harrison and Birchwood outside of EPB’s service area.
While state law currently prevents EPB from serving these families, Hamilton County Schools have developed a solution for these families and will communicate with them directly. If a family outside of EPB’s service territory does call EPB to scheudle service, they will be directed to their school for more information. HCS EdConnect is committed to serving every qualified family in Hamilton County.
EPB North Georgia customers and families whose children attend private schools are also not eligible since this is a Hamilton County School program.
How is this different from NetBridge?
NetBridge was a discount program that allowed HCS households in the EPB service area who qualified for free & reduced meals based on their income to subscribe to a 100 Mbps internet service and router for $26.99 a month.
With HCS EdConnect, all of the families who participated in NetBridge along with all other households that qualify for free & reduced meals based on their income in the EPB service area will receive 100 Mbps internet service and a router at no charge to them.
Will EPB continue to offer NetBridge?
Eventually, we will move all NetBridge customers over to HCS EdConnect and sunset the NetBridge program.
How many families will this serve who don’t currently have internet access?
Currently, there are approximately 28,500 Hamilton County School students in the Chattanooga area who meet the federal qualifications for free and reduced lunch or SNAP benefits.
According to Census data, nearly 30% of students (15,000) lack internet access in their homes. We know that many additional families rely solely on cellular connections, which do not support online learning, or struggle to maintain consistent home connectivity. By providing this service for any student that qualifies for free and reduced lunch, we feel confident that we are fully meeting the needs of HCS families.
What if I still have questions?
Please contact your child’s school, the tech hotline or the HCS EdConnect Facebook group with additional questions, but we ask for your patience and understanding as the unprecedented scale of this effort will undoubtedly present challenges along the way. Hamilton County Schools, EPB and The Enterprise Center are committed to working together to implement it fully and equitably across Hamilton County.
This FAQ page will be frequently updated.