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LYNN ― Using the tech talent of its members and state grants, The Brickyard Collaborative is creating a free, public Wi-Fi network pilot program in downtown Lynn to boost small businesses and revitalize the area.
Ted Dillard, founder and executive director of The Brickyard Collaborative, said that certain members knowledgeable in technology have been discussing free Wi-Fi ideas for key downtown areas. The organization received a grant from the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) in 2021 to help small businesses in Lynn cope with COVID-19 and pivot to a post-COVID business environment.
“We looked at it as an opportunity to look critically at the way people were doing business and the way the city handles its small businesses, re-think it and look at opportunities that we might have,” said Dillard.
The Brickyard Collaborative is a 4,600-square-foot makerspace, coworking space, and a creative co-op located on Linden Street that helps its members pool together resources and expensive technology to make ideas come to life. At Brickyard, makers can access such equipment as 3D printers, laser cutters, and computer numerical control (CNC) machines, etc. for printmaking, electronics, woodworking, metal fabrication, robotics, welding, and more.
The organization is hoping that, after it sets up a public Wi-Fi network, small businesses will be able to use it as a marketing tool to attract more customers, Dillard said.
At the same time, Brickyard found out that the city was working on implementing a similar initiative through a different channel of grants. After meeting with the city’s planning department, Dillard realized that his organization had the resources and freedom to do things that the city couldn’t.
Brickyard was free to test various equipment and use its technology experts. The organization contracted two studies to determine which locations would be more suitable for Wi-Fi access points.
“We found some products that are really remarkably powerful and very inexpensive,” said Dillard. “This is something that the city can’t really do, but they can certainly look at what we are doing.”
Brickyard also did a lot of work surveying the businesses and talking to people about whether they thought this was a good idea.
“Everybody is very excited about it,” Dillard said.
In October, Brickyard installed the first two access points, covering Central Square and the new Frederick Douglass Park. These access points cover Lynn Museum, Galleries At LynnArts (GALA), Cultura Latina Dance Academy, and Union Cafe.
In the next two weeks, three more access points will be set up on Munroe, Market and Union streets to cover retail-heavy areas that might benefit from free Wi-Fi.
Dillard plans to have six access points in total in the beginning — three wired and three wireless points — that create a meshed connection.
After all of the access points are set up, Brickyard will be able to analyze the locations chosen for the access points — whether people are using them, whether they are getting enough traffic and whether this is something the community wants to get behind permanently.
“All those issues that you are not going to know until you actually do it. The city can’t embark on a project like this,” said Dillard. “We will have nice, hardcore data for the city,”
Ultimately, The Brickyard Collaborative would like the city to take over the project.
All of the costs for the free Wi-Fi pilot are paid for by the grant. The broadband connection for each wired access point costs $100 a month, and the network doesn’t cost anything to the businesses it will cover.
“I truly believe if it is used properly by the small businesses, it is going to really make a big difference,” said Dillard. “I am delighted that the city has embraced this idea. They very much appreciate our help and welcome our contribution.”
If you would like to test out free Wi-Fi downtown, head over to Central Square and look for “FreeLynnWIFI” on your mobile device. Anyone can join the network without a signup or any fees.