Updated December 18, 2023
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.
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, or schools where all students receive free lunch, every family will receive opt-in information, 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) High speed, symmetrical internet service with 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 simply need to contact their child’s school.
Families can also opt in during registration.
Eligible families will be contacted throughout the year by e-mail, text and other means, but don’t need to wait; they can always contact their schools directly.
In order to schedule installation, please wait 24 hours after opting in 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 opt-in email or text message from HCS?
Just contact your child’s school.
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.
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 opting in before calling EPB.
How long will it take to receive 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.
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.
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.
Depending on the number of other services bundled, the cost of those services may increase minimally — but the new bundle cost will still be 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?
How long will the program last?
Hamilton County Schools and EPB have committed to working together to continue the service for 10 years, through at least 2030, 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.
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.
Families who no longer have students in Hamilton County Schools may qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program, through the FCC, which offers an up-to-$30/month benefit for home internet. You can learn more about that program and get help from Tech Goes Home and The Enterprise Center here.
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 fiber internet service and a router at no charge to them.
Will EPB continue to offer NetBridge?
All NetBridge customers have been moved to HCS EdConnect; the NetBridge program no longer exists.
How many families will this serve who don’t currently have internet access?
As of the 2023 school year, more than 10,000 families and over 18,000 students have benefited from HCS EdConnect, powered by EPB; new families qualify each year, and more are still eligible. Contact your school today.
What if I still have questions?
Please contact your child’s school 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.