STAPLES — For those who live or work in Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, or Wadena counties, does your area lack internet access? Does it have the high-speed internet you need to succeed?

Everyone relies on the internet for school, business, government, recreation, healthcare, and more. This became even more evident over the last year with students in distance-learning and companies, large and small, that shifted their employees to working remotely — retirees even scheduled Zoom telemedicine appointments for the first time. If internet connections weren’t reliable 24/7, residents and businesses scrambled to find access.

To discuss these questions and more, Region Five Development Commission is having a virtual Zoom event about local broadband access from 7-8:30 p.m. Sept. 30. People may also attend in person at one of five locations:

  • Brainerd: Central Lakes College, 501 W. College Drive

  • Little Falls: Sprout MN, 609 13th Avenue NE, Door 8

  • Long Prairie: Country Club, 406 Sixth St. SE

  • Staples: Central Lakes College, 1830 Airport Road

  • Pine River: Happy Dancing Turtle, 2331 Dancing Wind Road SW, Ste 1.

The purpose of the event is to get organized as a region to secure federal funding for local, high-speed internet. All who live or work in the five-county area are invited.

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“We want residents in our five-county region to bring their stories about internet access, frustrations, and ideas to our broadband event,” said Cheryal Lee Hills, executive director of Region Five Development Commission, in the news release. “A key factor in improving access to regional broadband is finding out what the needs are and learning how people are managing — or not managing — to access the internet.”

Several regional broadband events will be statewide, leading up to Blandin Foundation’s “Building on Broadband” annual meeting in October that will focus on the need for reliable, high-speed internet across the state.

“American Recovery Act funds are available for broadband expansion in areas of our five-county region where high-speed internet is currently unavailable, but we need to be organized in order to access and utilize the funding,” said Hills. “Meeting together on September 30 and hearing the stories of others who have struggles accessing the internet is a good start. It will help to highlight the need for reliable high-speed internet for so many residents across our five-county area and beyond. It’s possible to improve regional broadband when we all work together.”

The event is open to anyone interested in discussing current high-speed internet in their area and ways to expand it by accessing federal funding.

To attend the event, either virtually or in-person, register at: https://r5fiber.eventbrite.com. A link will be emailed to those who register. To attend in person, select one of the locations.

Along with Region Five Development Commission, the collaborative event is co-sponsored by the Blandin Foundation, Sourcewell, Initiative Foundation, and local telecommunication companies: Crosslake Communications, CTC, ECTC, and West Central Telephone.