EPB installs 27 free Wi-Fi hotspots for students across community during COVID-19 crisis

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ During the EPB Green Expo, at Miller Plaza's Waterhouse Pavilion, it was announced that the EPB building will be one of the first LEED Gold buildings in Chattanooga. The Expo took place on November 8, 2019.

EPB has now installed 27 free Wi-Fi hotspots across Hamilton County in an effort to increase student access to internet and online learning opportunities while schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative, a partnership among EPB, the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools, the Benwood Foundation, the Enterprise Center and Chattanooga 2.0, was announced last week as one of the ways the local community is rallying to help support students and families.

Hamilton County public schools are closed until at least April 27, depending on updates at the local or state levels related to the virus outbreak. Until then, teachers are reaching students through mostly online platforms, except for spring break April 6-10.

"It is estimated that about a fourth of our students don't have access to the internet at home," said Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, in a statement. "EPB Quick Connect is helping students and teachers stay connected during this unprecedented time of distance learning."

EPB's "Quick Connect" Wi-Fi hotspots are in parking lots at schools and other community centers so that people can use the service whether in their cars or outside - while still observing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines. The hotspots are in several areas across Chattanooga's urban core as well as in some of the county's more rural areas, such as Soddy-Daisy.

EPB Quick Connect Locations

— Bethlehem Center, 200 W 38th St.— Boys & Girls Club - East Lake, 2125 East 25th Street Place— Boys & Girls Club - Highland Park Unit,2312 Duncan Ave.— Brainerd High School,1020 N. Moore Road— Brown Academy, 718 E. 8th St.— Clifton Hills Elementary, vacant lot across 32nd, 1815 E. 32nd St.— College Hill Apartments, 1300 Grove St Court— East Brainerd Elementary, 7660 Goodwin Road— East Lake Academy - 2 access points, 2700 E. 34th St.— East Side Elementary, 1603 S. Lyerly St.— Emma Wheeler Homes, 4900 Edingburg Drive # A— Glass Street, empty lot across from 2523 Glass St.— Hixson Elementary, 5950 Winding Lane— Howard High School, 2500 Market St.— Valley Elementary School, 701 Browns Ferry Road— Middle Valley Elementary, 1609 Thrasher Pike— Missionary Heights, 2516 Judson Lane— Mowbray Fire Department, 1705 Mowbray Pike, Soddy-Daisy— Mt. Canaan Baptist Church - 2 access points, 4801 TN-58— Orchard Knob Elementary, 2000 E. 3rd St.— Red Bank Elementary, 1100 Mountain Creek Road— Sale Creek Middle/High School, 211 Patterson Road— Soddy Elementary, 260 School St.— Spring Creek Elementary, 1100 Spring Creek Road— St. Elmo Park on St. Elmo Ave.— Wolftever Elementary, 5080 Ooltewah Ringgold Road

Most of the hotspots cover up to a 250-foot radius. In some locations, EPB has installed two access points for greater coverage. The district has provided signs and instructions at most locations to make it easy for families to find them.

About 75% of Hamilton County homes have access to broadband internet, including data service via mobile phones, and in surrounding counties that number is even lower. The lack of access can have dire consequences for children, according to The Associated Press.

Students with home internet consistently score higher in reading, math and science, and the homework gap in many ways mirrors broader educational barriers for poor and minority students.

Now, with more students and workers online for the foreseeable future, those consequences could be made worse.

Typically, students and families might use public libraries or Chattanooga's Youth and Family Development Centers to gain internet access, but those and other businesses have been shut down during the pandemic.

"At a time when online learning is the best way to help students continue their education, EPB is working hard to provide solutions," said Shane Wallin of EPB Field Services, in a statement. "At EPB, we're committed to supporting our neighbors during this difficult time while taking steps to be sure we all stay safe and healthy."

Tech Goes Home, a program out of the Enterprise Center, is maintaining an up-to-date list of EPB's Quick Connect Locations and other internet resources. For more information, visit: www.techgoeshomecha.org/epb.html.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.