STAPLES-A multiyear, multimillion-dollar project aimed at bringing high-speed internet access to all residents in Region 5 continues this year with broadband expansion and exploration into the rural Todd and Wadena counties.

The project is a cooperative effort involving regional telecommunications companies Consolidated Telephone Company and West Central Telephone Association with assistance from the Region Five Development Commission and National Joint Powers Alliance, according to the Region Five Development Commission.

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"Since 2015, NJPA has made a combined total of $400,000 worth of investments to CTC, WCTA and others in the region for feasibility and engineering research," Cheryal Lee Hills, Executive Director for R5DC, said in a news release. "This generous investment helped us provide the data needed to secure and leverage $9.8 million through the Department of Employment and Economic Development Office of Broadband and CTC/WCTA match infusion."

WCTA's project build-out areas for 2017-18 include approximately 200 residents and 68 miles of fiber in the rural Wadena County area, and approximately 145 residents and 63 miles of fiber in the northern Todd County area. Through funding, grant money, and company match 852 rural Region 5 residents have gained access to broadband. CTC and WCTA plan to work with R5DC to secure additional funding for future expansion into rural Todd County.

The benefits of bringing broadband to unserved and underserved regions are many: economic development, education, healthcare and telemedicine, workforce development, and more.

"The contributions to broadband deployment in Region 5 is a dedicated commitment to enhance the economics and lives of our rural area," said CTC's Chief Operating Officer Kristi Westbrock.

NJPA Director of Regional Programs Paul Drange said the organization views its support of the project as a strategic reinvestment in the region.

"Bringing broadband to Region 5 means providing all of our schools and students with access to excellent learning opportunities and opportunities for college and career readiness," Drange said. "It's also an essential tool for our small businesses and area entrepreneurs, which are important players in our communities."