PARCA

David Carpenter makes a point Tuesday during a Greater Shoals meeting with the Developing Hi-Tech infrastructure group. [BERNIE DELINSKI/TIMESDAILY]

FLORENCE — A Greater Shoals working group wants local city and utilities officials to explore the possibility of being service providers for enhanced high fiber capacity in the Shoals.

The Hi-Tech Infrastructure group agreed on that recommendation at its third and final meeting Tuesday.

The group also recommends enhanced training for local residents, including elderly residents, on internet use.

Alvin Rosenbaum, who moderates the group sessions, said the committee will make the recommendations during an overall strategy meeting June 18 that includes five additional group recommendations.

The six groups emerged from a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama study titled, "A Greater Shoals: A Pathway."

The other five groups include Broadening the Definition of Economic Development, Government Cooperation and Structure, Quality of Life, Unified Tourism, and Workforce Development and Education.

The Unified Tourism group meets at 7:30 a.m. today.

The recommendation session for the Broadening the Definition of Economic Development is Tuesday, and the Workforce Development and Education groups meets May 15.

The Quality of Life group meets May 21, and the Government Cooperation and Structure group meets May 22.

All sessions start at 7:30 a.m. at the McKinney Center.

Florence Utilities covers service throughout Lauderdale County, while Sheffield Utilities covers all of Colbert County except Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals, which have their own utilities.

Rosenbaum said the High-Tech Infrastructure group's recommendations are on three levels, starting with local utilities exploring high-speed access services. It is possible that could be in the form of a public-private partnership.

"We want utilities in the two counties to look at both the cost to the consumer and the speed of implementation as our first choice," he said.

Rosenbaum said that exploration would include determining the impact of time and cost elements.

He said training of local residents is a second recommendation.

If the first recommendation is not deemed feasible, the third level of recommendations would be "the fallback position" of continuing to allow the private sector to determine the area's fate regarding high-speed access, he said.

Local resident David Carpenter, president of the Integrity Institute, said if local utilities and city officials are interested in exploring the recommendations, they also should look into funding sources. He mentioned the Brookings Institution as a possibility.

"I think you're looking at public-private, where the public handles all of the maintenance and design and installation, but funding comes from outside sources," Carpenter said.

He said a cost analysis needs to be conducted, and recommends using the University of North Alabama resources for that.

However, Carpenter added, "To be honest, I wouldn't pay to have that done until you got the OK from the mayors and utilities managers."

He said utilities companies typically are able to start making profits once they surpass 15,000 customers.

Carpenter also pointed out the Tennessee Valley Authority ran cables across the Shoals in 2018 to help update data flow.

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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