STAPLES-Broadband expansion and exploration into the rural areas of Todd and Wadena counties continues this year with a multi-year, multi-million dollar project aimed at bringing high-speed internet access to all residents in Region Five.

The project is a cooperative effort involving regional telecommunications companies Consolidated Telecommunications Co. and West Central Telephone Association, with assistance from the Region Five Development Commission and Sourcewell.

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Since 2015, Sourcewell has made a combined total of $500,000 in investments to complete feasibility and engineering for regional broadband projects. In partnership with the local telecommunication companies, these substantial outlays have leveraged funding through the Department of Employment and Economic Development Office of Broadband.

"Our region is extremely fortunate to have a partner like Sourcewell who offers unparalleled contract purchasing solutions, services to our schools, local units of government and communities, then continues above and beyond to invest in critical issues that make a difference in our quality of life," Region Five Development Commission Executive Director Cheryal Lee Hills said in a news release.

The benefits of bringing broadband to unserved and underserved regions include economic development, education, health care and telemedicine, workforce development and more. "Broadband expansion in Region Five is important for educational and economic growth, and we also believe there are great opportunities for much needed telehealth services. Sourcewell's contributions for broadband deployment is a smart investment that will bring prosperity to the region for years to come. West Central Telephone is excited to be a partner in this project," said WCTA CEO Chad Bullock in a news release.

Sourcewell's director of regional programs Paul Drange said the organization views its support of the project as a strategic reinvestment in the region.

"Broadband access for Region Five is vitally important to our students and families," Drange said in the release. "This access also drives economic development that is essential for the prosperity of our region. Through collective regional efforts, we've been able to leverage state dollars to improve internet access in underserved areas in our region. We are excited to see what the future holds as internet access expands across Region Five."