Chattanooga Leads with Innovative Services and Pioneering Programs for Low-Income Individuals - Episode 579 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher speaks with Deb Socia, President and CEO, and Geoff Millener, Chief Operating Officer, of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Enterprise Center is a non-profit partner to the City of Chattanooga that unites people, organizations, and technology to build an advanced and inclusive future.

The group discusses the HCS ED Connect program, a transformative initiative providing free home Internet access to low-income students in Chattanooga, and its notable impact on parent engagement and student success.

Deb and Jeff also shed light on the Orchard Knob project, leveraging technology to better health outcomes in African-American neighborhoods, and the Tech Goes Home program, offering technology access and training for seniors and their underserved populations.

Throughout the conversation, the group underscores the vital role of partnerships and community engagement in successfully implementing these initiatives. They conclude by emphasizing the overarching need for universal broadband access as a driving force behind fostering positive change in communities.

This show is 38 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Transcript below.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Deb Socia (00:07):
It just makes sense to be doing this kind of work. It actually has been pretty spectacular to be part of it because the outcomes have been pretty awesome.

Christopher Mitchell (00:17):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and I'm back here with two of my favorite [00:00:30] people doing this work, but don't tell anyone else. We have Deb Socha, who is the president and CEO of the Enterprise Center. Welcome.

Deb Socia (00:38):
Thanks for having us, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell (00:40):
And then we also have Jeff Milner, the Chief Operating Officer of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga. Welcome,

Geoff Millener (00:46):
Chris. Thank you so much for having us. What's really exciting is I think the last time we did this, I was in the back bedroom of a house cowering from a pandemic. It's exciting to be in the office.

Christopher Mitchell (00:57):
Yes. Yeah. Although it looks like you have to turn the heat [00:01:00] up. That's a great vest you're wearing.

Geoff Millener (01:02):
Well, Tennessee, it's no Minnesota, but it's November.

Christopher Mitchell (01:07):
So I feel like Jeff, if either one of us took our job less seriously, we would have more time to pretend to be nemesis, I feel like. And anyway, so if you hear me disrespecting Jeff openly on this call, it is only because I enjoy doing that.

Geoff Millener (01:24):
I appreciate that very much, Chris. I feel almost exactly the same way

Christopher Mitchell (01:28):
We had, and it was the three of us [00:01:30] along with some other people on a panel at a net inclusion previously, which is still one of my favorite experiences at any event ever. And mostly because Jeff is hilarious. So good at your job and hilarious. It must be wonderful being you. We are going to talk about Chattanooga while Jeff tries to make his face less read. Chattanooga has an amazing collection of folks that are doing great work. It's been built over many decades of organizing. [00:02:00] I've done some writing about Chattanooga. They have the municipal fiber system, which built on a lot of that work. And then you have carpet baggers like Deb that showed up and try to take credit for things. So Deb, why don't you tell us about the Enterprise center?

Deb Socia (02:15):
Well, the Enterprise Center is really this amazing group of folks who are really focused on thinking about how do we improve quality of life for the people who live in our communities, and how do we leverage the power of technology and online access to really [00:02:30] help us make those changes that can lead to a better outcome for the community.

Christopher Mitchell (02:36):
It sounds like it's like a business incubator, but you're very widely focused on just making the community better. It seems like

Deb Socia (02:44):
Very much that way and pretty entrepreneurial in doing it. Right. We've had a lot of leeway to try unique and interesting projects and then build them from there. And the vast majority of them have been really successful.

Christopher Mitchell (02:58):
And we're going to talk about a [00:03:00] few of those today. I think it might be helpful to just start with a reminder of what Chattanooga did when the pandemic hit HCS Ed Connect for Hamilton County Schools, Chattanooga's in Hamilton County. So let me ask you, Deb, we'll just keep Jeff quiet for another second and go through again for a second, how this HCS Ed Connect thing works.

Deb Socia (03:23):
Well, I'll tell you that the interesting thing, everybody in the country all of a sudden realized we can't do school from home. [00:03:30] So many of our children were unconnected or didn't have a device or the skillset to work independently like that. But Chatanooga had some assets in place and those assets included an empowered elected official or two or three that got together on this project and local philanthropy. And of course we have EPB our wonderful utility and said along [00:04:00] with the Hamilton County School superintendent, what can we do? How do we address this? And they came up with a project called HCS at Connect powered by EPB. And what we're doing at this point and continue to do is every student in K to 12 who is low income free or reduced lunch status can have free home Internet access at the minimum of 300 megabits symmetrical for their entire schooling. [00:04:30] We had said when we started, it would be at least 10 years. I imagine it's going to go well beyond that, but the power of having all those children connected at this point, it's almost 17,000 children is pretty amazing.

Christopher Mitchell (04:46):
And that's most of the children who qualify, although not all, because we have all found that the administration and execution of these things is very challenging.

Deb Socia (04:56):
And Jeff could speak more to that. He's done a lot of the work on [00:05:00] managing how do we make sure people who are eligible or actually getting connected. And there are a wide range of reasons people don't connect. Some of them because they have a triple play that they kind of like and they don't want to give up and others for other reasons sharing an Internet with their mom. So we've found it's not going to ever be a hundred percent.

Geoff Millener (05:25):
And I think for us too, making sure that we have the broadest possible [00:05:30] qualifications for folks so that we don't fail to reach the most disconnected student is more important than showing from an operational perspective, it's about connecting people. It's not strictly about the numbers. A third of Hamilton County students are connected, which is incredible. That's when we first kicked off the project and looked at the data. It's about how many we expected would be disconnected, have service that didn't work for what they needed, et cetera. So [00:06:00] it's not saying we're done, it's just we really from an operations perspective, want to make sure that the most difficult to connect student never gets dropped out of eligibility, never falls off the program, and that we're working with the school's interpreters to call and keep calling. And when we don't hear back from folks that we're doing additional outreach that without long-term commitment's, what school looks like, we're going to keep following [00:06:30] up until someone says, I really don't need this connection. That's our approach.

Christopher Mitchell (06:36):
I don't want to spend too much time talking about those who haven't taken advantage of this, but I did want to just flag it for those who are curious about what if you live in and perhaps the most blessed community from a connectivity point of view, what challenges are there when you get rid of cost as a barrier? And it turns out that there are still some, and we're going to talk about tech goes home and the various problems that tech goes home offers [00:07:00] in Chattanooga as well as elsewhere. But I just wanted people to understand that even in Chattanooga where you have one of the best networks in the entire planet and they've made it free for people who qualify, a lot of people who qualify, there's still challenges that the community has to face in trying to make sure that everyone can take advantage of it. And I think that's a message some people have to hear.

Geoff Millener (07:21):
Yeah, and I'll share with you, Chris, I just got off our weekly operations call for the team that is doing this outreach and heard about a family who [00:07:30] got connected to the Internet for the very first time in their entire lives yesterday. It had never been important enough. They were able to use their phones, but the daughter's struggling in school and reached out about what resources were available. She's taking a device home over the Thanksgiving holiday to help get caught up on her schoolwork, and they're excited about this way in which they can support her, and this is the very first time they have ever had Internet at home beyond a mobile device.

Christopher Mitchell (07:58):
So what have we learned [00:08:00] when this program kicked off, one of the things that I deeply appreciated about you, Deb, was you said, what are we going to be able to learn from this? How are we going to study it? You worked, and I know that it's been difficult to raise the money. I think there's probably more research that could be done if there was money to conduct it, but what have we learned in studying the results of this program?

Deb Socia (08:20):
Yeah, I think the interesting part of this has been we worked with Dr. Bebo from Boston College. We also worked with UTC [00:08:30] to look at both the qualitative and quantitative data. What we're seeing is a greater level of connectivity of parents to schools, and what we're seeing is a shrinking in the disparity about who communicates with the schools. The school uses an online portal. If you don't know how to use it or how to access it, you can't check your child's grades, your child's attendance. Having that information is power [00:09:00] for a parent in terms of helping their children be successful.

Christopher Mitchell (09:04):
I'm surprised at the level. So I have a second grader and the music teacher reached out to us when Jackson had a rough day, and Michelle and I happen to know that he had an ear infection and we could offer that context when he's gotten us some disciplinary issues here or there. We knew about it immediately and were able to address it before it would get worse. Having that quick contact is important, and he's not at a point where're really worried about [00:09:30] grades, but at that point it'll be great having those updates and things like that. If you're not tuned into that, it's difficult and especially if you may not even know that that's available to you, I think you're missing out on some of this.

Deb Socia (09:44):
One of the big issues, especially post pandemic, has been truancy and as a parent, it's very hard to tell if your 14 year old went to school or not. They're smart enough to leave in the morning and come back at the end of the day,

So what can I do as [00:10:00] a parent? I can go on that portal and see if they checked in today. I don't have to wait for a phone call that he's missed 10 days. I can check today every day. I think that kind of capacity as a parent has been incredibly powerful. And we've heard not just stories about issues related to that, but issues related to improving student grades as well. How do you make sure your child's doing their homework? How do you check [00:10:30] to see how they did on that test yesterday? All of that is very relevant and helpful as parents, especially if you can get it immediately.

Christopher Mitchell (10:39):

Geoff Millener (10:40):
Well, I'll add too, just from, again, thinking about the whole household, right? We're not just connecting the students, but I do want to talk about that a little bit. But two thirds of our parents say that they've looked for a job, looked at work opportunities every month that they've learned something new, it's more [00:11:00] than 80%, more than 90% learning something new for their personal interests, 86%. I think that's the right number for this past year. Scheduling medical appointments, reaching out to their doctors on a monthly basis. This is about the whole life of the child, the community around the child. In addition to those direct educational supports, we're seeing that too, that they're a positive correlation with retention, [00:11:30] with achievement, and building further on top of that as we go down, what happens to education when you take away this barrier? How can teachers change? How do they set different expectations because they know whatever they assign, every student is going to have the access they need to be able to accomplish that thing, to pursue something on their own. Those are sorts of things As we track this year over year, and as we get out of the more exciting data fluctuations [00:12:00] of the pandemic over time, what changes? Because this barrier doesn't have to exist for a classroom.

Christopher Mitchell (12:08):
And so just for, I want to make sure we hit that because sometimes when I hear a bunch of numbers altogether, it's a little bit overwhelming. But one of the things I took away from that is nearly every family who got a free connection from this HCS Ed Connect program used it for interacting with the healthcare system. That's remarkable.

Geoff Millener (12:28):
Yeah, absolutely. As [00:12:30] Deb mentioned, the numbers interacted with schools incredibly high, really engaged parents. I'll share. As we looked at data, it is about showing what's happening. It's also about helping us do our work around this better. An example in our year two research data saw this really strong demographic with the strongest positive perception of technology for education in the home was our Hispanic Latinx families. But [00:13:00] we saw that they were connecting about the same rate of other families, and that felt like with that positive association, shouldn't that number be a little bit higher? We worked with the school system with the interpreters to do additional outreach to make sure that the messaging was reaching families who have a language barrier around access. That's been a big part of the ongoing evaluation. This partnership with BC and UTC is the stuff that we change [00:13:30] about the program as we learn what we can do to be more effective in connecting with families.

Christopher Mitchell (13:35):
Deb, what else have we learned that makes it worthwhile studying this?

Deb Socia (13:39):
Well, I think the dynamic between the school and the parent is really my biggest area of focus because as a former educator, I know that when parents are engaged, students succeed at a higher level. Students come to school, students are much more engaged. Students scores go up. So [00:14:00] whenever we can get parent engagement, I am really excited about that. I think one of the other things that will change that I have mixed feelings about are snow days. So what happens when the entire community is connected and you have to stay home because of a weather event? Well, now it's not necessarily going to be a snow day. We could literally have students learn from home. Not that we get much snow here in Chattanooga, Chris, but

Christopher Mitchell (14:30):
[00:14:30] Right. No, I think the proper thing to do is what I think is happening in a number of places, which is reduced expectations. You still got to do some work, but it's not going to be the same level. They want to give you a chance to go out and deal with unpredictability of mother nature. So I hope that's what's happening. But I am curious, something that Jeff and I we've talked about before and now you're going to us with the latest. So Jeff, my understanding is that initially with HCS reconnect, we saw the racial disparity between [00:15:00] different groups of parents interacting with the school system. There were racial disparities, which is to say black families tended to interact with the school at a different rate than white families than did other racial groups. And that seemed to go away when the HCSI connect made sure everyone had Internet access. And yet I think there's been a more complicated dynamic since then over the different years. What have you seen?

Geoff Millener (15:25):
Yeah, so we did see in our very first year that racial [00:15:30] gap equalized moving into the second year. And we've sort of postulated that as everyone rushed to return to normal, getting rid of things like one-on-one online meetings and asking folks to come in and do those in person, this kind of quick return to normal without realizing that normal didn't actually work for lots of families in our community. We saw the numbers [00:16:00] creep apart again. But then as we've shifted into this third year and are looking at data again, seeing that gap narrow, so it is something that we're paying attention to, but as we look at all of those other numbers around parent engagement, it feels like a really positive trend.

Christopher Mitchell (16:15):
Deb, are there any other findings around HTS Ed Connect we should touch on? I've been desperate to know if we've seen a change in disciplinary records. I don't know if that evidence has come to light at all, or if I'm just wrong in my hypothesis that making sure everyone can play Fortnite will result in fewer [00:16:30] disciplinary problems.

Deb Socia (16:32):
It's interesting. We don't really have that data, but I have that data from another project I did, and literally the number of disciplinary referrals dropped by more than 25% when every child had a device and every child had access. So there is some evidence of that in some of the research that's been done. I think the ways in which it helps have a lot to do with socializing [00:17:00] that students can be connected, that we can coordinate our work together, that we can collaborate on the same work together, changes the ways in which children work together, and I think there's a real great potential for that to make a significant impact on academics. That for me, is an important piece. And sort of talking about what Jeff was speaking about earlier about the return to school, I'll give you a good example of [00:17:30] that happening. So for example, if your child has an individual educational plan because they have a disability of some sort, you meet once a year and have a big IEP meeting, everybody comes together. And during the pandemic, they did those virtually and they had a much, much higher percentage of parent engagement on those. Some of the schools went back to holding them only in person, and that number dropped again. And so thinking about what were the [00:18:00] practices that teachers put in place during the pandemic that helped improve outcomes for children, and let's make sure we continue those, how do we make that a standard and an expectation in order to ensure that our children are getting the very best out of the opportunity?

Christopher Mitchell (18:19):
Yes, and I can say that I have a pretty flexible schedule. Fortunately, and even then, I was able to just meet a meeting with [00:18:30] one of these individual education plans. There's a lot of students on those, and I was able to attend one of those meetings just because it was virtual. I would not have been able to be there in person because of other commitments that I had. So yeah, it's a big deal. Is there anything else on HTS Ed Connect before we move on to one of the other exciting projects?

Geoff Millener (18:49):
I will just build on what you just said, Chris, as part of what school looks like in Hamilton County, the strategic [00:19:00] plan that the school system has put in place, this idea of personalized learning, of being able to really expand the walls of the classroom wherever they need to go to be able to support workforce development. And every job has a technical aspect. These are things that we are really well positioned to support students and families around. And as we see the opportunity associated with the funding available to communities [00:19:30] at the moment, this can be a story not just here, but everywhere. And that's really, really exciting too.

Christopher Mitchell (19:37):
Yes. I want to say as we wrap this up, I do feel like if HT SA connect was happening anywhere else, it would've gotten three times the coverage. I feel like people are like, ah, it's Chattanooga. They're just doing that Chattanooga stuff. And so I'm glad we have a chance to highlight it here. But I want to jump on to the Orchard Knob project, which is really cool. You presented [00:20:00] on that at Mountain Connect. It was really great getting an update on that, but for people who weren't there, what's happening in Orchard Knob?

Deb Socia (20:08):
Yeah, orchard Knob is such a great project. It's a small neighborhood in Chattanooga, and it tends to be a little bit older, the population and predominantly African-American. But unfortunately, the neighborhood has some of the worst healthcare outcomes around certain indicators like asthma and heart [00:20:30] disease and diabetes. And so the goal of the project is really how can we leverage technology to improve health outcomes through things like telehealth through smart infrastructure, like smart thermostats and air quality sensors. We have indoor and outdoor air quality sensors. We're running our Tech Goes Home program, so people have a device skills training and home access, and we are leveraging that information [00:21:00] to help people improve their outcomes. So a telehealth appointment, a fitness project, all of those things are part of this work, and we're really, really hoping to see some change in the aggregate healthcare outcomes for that neighborhood. It's been pretty fabulous to watch and pretty complex to manage.

Christopher Mitchell (21:21):
No, and I think one of the things that fascinated me is in some ways I think it's a reminder of how far you can go with just the connection and [00:21:30] the fact that you have a partner that offered a thousand telehealth appointments or something like that. That's crucial. I mean, to be able to put that together. And so some of the people who listen to this may be from Internet service providers, and I think this question of what can you do alone? You could do more with partners. So it's pretty important.

Deb Socia (21:51):
I think that's one of the things that makes Chattanooga unique is that people are willing to really work together and to step [00:22:00] aside and not be the center of attention in terms of getting the feedback that maybe one individual would get if they were doing it alone. We are really happy to share the accolades and share the opportunity, and we are all committed to saying, Hey, we're going to try this thing. It may not work, but we'll try it and we'll learn and we'll adapt and we'll learn and we'll adapt. And I think that's definitely what we have done both in Orchard Knob and with HCS [00:22:30] Ed Connect.

Christopher Mitchell (22:31):
What are some things that you'd be adapting if you were starting again in a different neighborhood or even starting over in Orchard Knob?

Deb Socia (22:38):
I think one of the things that's so important in neighborhoods, and we built this into the grant, was that we shouldn't make assumptions before we begin about what the community wants and the community should be helping to develop what happens in their neighborhoods to improve their quality of life. We don't have those answers. We are not [00:23:00] the experts. And so I would say the one thing I would want to do is spend a little bit more time on that aspect. The hard part about it is actually that is very hard to write a grant that says, we can't tell you what we're going to do until you give us the money. And so that's definitely a challenge. And TVA was really great about giving us some flexibility to really do that. I think I would probably have spent more time and resources [00:23:30] on that initial aspect.

And by the way, we are creating a toolkit that we will share with folks. We have had some pretty interesting learning experiences along the way and have discovered some of the things we need to do better in terms of explaining to folks. And an example of that is we're helping them build a website, a typical website. We might know the cost of that or the typical cost for that. This one's a little more money. We [00:24:00] should have been clear about why upfront and we weren't as clear as we should have been. It's a little more money because we are making it plug and play really, really simple so that when the grant is done, it can still be managed by the neighborhood. There are times where we just need to be a lot more transparent and communicate a lot better than we did.

Christopher Mitchell (24:20):
So I'm curious, Jeff, what you take away from Orchard Knob. Is there a part of it that you find is particularly impactful or what are you proud to have worked on?

Geoff Millener (24:30):
[00:24:30] As you said, the partnered element that when you are designing a pilot, an experiment, you don't have to sort of do it with a scientific method. If I could be a liberal arts major for a second, you can flood the zone. You can sort of bring the whole array of what's possible and ask what helps. What do you need with the connected infrastructure behind it as sort of like what does it actually mean to live in a smart city, in a connected community, [00:25:00] in a community where Internet access isn't a barrier, what other things can change and who else can be part of that conversation can bring services, right? We wrote a grant or some specific project, but then have been able to wrap in all of these other things around it because it's not about what we outlined in the grant. It's about what can change for a community through that community's leadership and how do we as partner organizations, as [00:25:30] governments, as nonprofits, et cetera. What is our place in that and how we all work together. I think it's the human connectivity on top of the digital, the physical connectivity in a city like Chattanooga, and that's another one, withed Connect, one of those lessons that can be replicated in communities across the country.

Christopher Mitchell (25:52):
Deb, there's been some really wonderful local champions with that project making that happen. And I'm just curious if you want to share anything. [00:26:00] We featured this in the Building for Digital Equity back in the early October and that the show that we did, but for people who haven't caught that yet, just give us a quick anecdote of one thing that's sort of like the people might be able to connect with

Deb Socia (26:14):
Some of the work that we're doing. We're working with Habitat for Humanity to go in and manage the hvac. EPB has some energy saving opportunities that they can come in and help with another nonprofit here. Green Spaces is [00:26:30] doing some smart thermostats and so forth. And one of the homes we went to, the HVAC was in need of replacement and the person qualified, but we really couldn't get up her front porch because it was in really bad shape too. And what happens is folks are paying their taxes. They've been in these homes for a long time, but they can't afford the repairs and we're going to lose the beauty of that neighborhood if we can't help them remain in their homes. [00:27:00] And so the group got together and Habitat found some resources, and we were able to help her get a brand new porch in addition to the HVAC system. And that's going to have a significant impact on all aspects of her life. Now. She's safer, she has a better system of receiving air conditioning and heating. We've put in insulation and a smart thermostat. I mean, there's so many ways in which the quality of her life will [00:27:30] improve and also will allow us as a community and as a group of neighborhoods remain connected to this vibrant and beautiful group of people.

Christopher Mitchell (27:42):
Yeah, I mean, one of the things I still take away from a previous conversation with folks in EPB is this is a different project where EPB has worked to upgrade homes, primarily looking at homes that are run by a single person that are in poverty. And one of the lessons they had taken away [00:28:00] was when they replaced the HVAC system, their people's health improved. And I don't know, I go back, Deb, you worked with me. You know that I'm obnoxious and I can be a pain in the butt. And you can imagine if I had five or 10% more illness and was out more often and things like that, a number of people might've said Along the way, Chris, you're gone. And so I've had the benefit of living mostly in places where I don't have those issues. And I think that as we're able to change those, it is amazing how changing a few key points [00:28:30] in a person's life, enabling them to be a little bit healthier, where they're not going to have those issues. It changes their employment prospects, it changes everything.

Deb Socia (28:37):
And I would say one other aspect of that, particularly in the aging population, is the social isolation that happens. That technology can be a great way to improve outcomes. So I can connect with my grandchildren, I can connect with my family all over the country, and in fact in other countries, that opportunity [00:29:00] to reduce social isolation has a huge impact on people's quality of life and their health outcomes. Just there's so many ways that technology really changes the opportunities available to the Orchard Knob community, and we're kind of thrilled to be able to be a small part of that.

Christopher Mitchell (29:20):
Now, I want to spend the last few minutes talking about TechCo Home. I believe it's a wonderful project started in Boston, and then Deb blatantly stole the ideas when she came [00:29:30] to Chattanooga from those people that do such great work up there. Deb's laughing because it

Geoff Millener (29:37):
Always feels, talking about Tecos home with Deb on the call is the most nerve wracking thing on the face of the planet.

Christopher Mitchell (29:44):
So for people who aren't aware, Deb, Deb was instrumental and Tech goes home in Boston, and so I love the idea of accusing her plagiarizing from it.

Deb Socia (29:53):
Yeah, I'm sure they all feel that way. Yeah. We'll have to check in with Dan

Christopher Mitchell (29:59):
Marvin's [00:30:00] up there running it now,

Deb Socia (30:01):
Marvin and Dan Noy. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell (30:03):
Yeah. And I know Marvin better. I've seen him in a number of interviews and he's just wonderful. Terrific. He is. Yeah. Great folks,

Deb Socia (30:10):
Great project.

Christopher Mitchell (30:11):
So what's going on in Chattanooga with Tecos Home?

Geoff Millener (30:14):
We are thrilled to be able to work with Boston around even the work that we're doing at the moment. We just graduated our 11th thousandth Tecos home graduate. We've gone from

Christopher Mitchell (30:27):
11,000 in Chattanooga

Geoff Millener (30:29):
In Tennessee. [00:30:30] In

Christopher Mitchell (30:30):
Tennessee. Thank you.

Geoff Millener (30:31):
Part of the story is that we started with three Central Tecos home offerings right here at the Enterprise Center 2015. And we are now working through a couple of different programs statewide across Tennessee because folks recognize the importance, the value of the work that was happening here of the Tecos home model, of the experience of the folks who go through it. So in addition to the work that we're doing [00:31:00] in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, we had more than 2000 older adults around the state of Tennessee go through this over the last year and a bit through a partnership with the West End Home Foundation in Nashville. And as Deb talked about social isolation, I mean some of the stories that come out of those partnerships, folks who are talking to their grandson who's been deployed for the first time in years to [00:31:30] great nieces and nephews that they've never spoken to, these sorts of things that are just change everything.

One of our colleagues shared a story about a woman whose husband is ill, and she is having to take over all of the things that she used to depend on him for, and this is part of the way that she's taking back that independence, taking care of him, taking care of the household, just the agency associated with it. So we've been able to work with that population [00:32:00] around the state. We've been able to work with early childhood educators around the state as well, supporting through CCR and R here in Tennessee. The most essential part of our community is to make sure that our economy actually works. I think the pandemic really showed, as we said at the beginning of this call, that the normal didn't work for everybody. This is one of those ways that we're making sure that our communities don't have to go back to that normal, [00:32:30] they have agency, they have access, they have the skills to do what they want and what's meaningful for them.

Deb Socia (32:40):
I would add to that with the senior project, a lot of those tech goes home classes. Were run in pretty rural places, right? Tennessee has a lot of rural areas, and so a lot of folks in those rural areas, once you get a little older, it's really hard to manage your healthcare. Part of this [00:33:00] is that we installed healthcare stations in some of the senior centers that have sufficient access that maybe they don't have in their rural home, but that we have in that center. And there's the sort of support to engage in telehealth in that center. So the capacity to go 10 minutes to the senior center rather than drive two hours to see the specialist is pretty huge. [00:33:30] So we're saving folks time and money and sort of wear and tear on their vehicles and their health. And I mean, it just makes sense to be doing this kind of work. And it actually has been pretty spectacular to be part of it because the outcomes have been pretty awesome.

Christopher Mitchell (33:52):
Is there something, Deb, that when you reflect back on when you get started with tech goes home, that you're just shocked that this is where we [00:34:00] are now, either positively or negatively, I mean in 2023 with these still wide gaps between those who have great access and those who don't, but we're also making great strides elsewhere?

Deb Socia (34:10):
I feel like the overnight success that took 20 years, because when we first started this work, I don't think I felt differently about the importance of access and technology and training, but there's so much more that we use technology for today than we did back [00:34:30] then. It was far less engaged in your work life, engaged in your healthcare schooling. All of those things have really developed over the past 20 years. And so that part of it has been really interesting to me. But what is incredibly disappointing is that we have not figured out how to have ubiquitous high-speed access for everybody in this country. It feels like a solvable problem, and it's devastating to have so many folks that [00:35:00] literally their only option is dial up. How could that possibly be in 2023? And that to me is really devastating. The opportunities the technology has brought on the other hand bring me a lot of joy because we know we can mitigate some other factors by using technology.

Christopher Mitchell (35:19):
Wonderful. And Jeff, is there anything else you want to throw in as we start to wrap up?

Geoff Millener (35:23):
I feel like that setup is just payback for teasing you at the beginning of the episode. [00:35:30] Can you follow up Deb so's impassion plea for Universal Broadband? Thanks, Chris. No, I obviously can't say anything better than that. It is always fun to talk to you despite moments like this, Chris,

Christopher Mitchell (35:48):
It's years of experience that lead me to be such a great interviewer. And to put you on the spot, I've had thousands of conversations to be ready [00:36:00] for this moment. Go ahead, Deb.

Deb Socia (36:02):
I was just going to say, it always makes me laugh to hear the two of you together.

Geoff Millener (36:06):
It's a lot of fun.

Christopher Mitchell (36:08):
Mom likes you best. Well, it's been wonderful catching up with you. It's been, I think three years since we spoke last. I don't think it'll be three years till we speak again. I think we want to do some more video type work highlighting some of the great stuff that we see in places like Chattanooga. And so [00:36:30] I'm hopeful at some point I'll be down there and throwing a camera in your face and annoying you in person rather than remotely. So thank you for taking the time, and thank you for the great work.

Geoff Millener (36:39):
Thank you. Appreciate it, Chris.

Ry Marcattilio (36:40):
We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muni Email with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handles at communitynets follow muni Stories on Twitter that handles at muni networks. [00:37:00] Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including Building Local Power, local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly While you're there, please take a moment to donate your support in any amount. Keeps us going. Thank you to Arnie Sby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative [00:37:30] Commons. This was the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.