The land that the Internet forgot

Increasingly, there are two main paths out of high school in the Delta, and both of them lead to the same place. The biggest employer in the area today is a network of local prisons whose population—of both inmates and guards—is largely African-American and drawn from the Delta’s native sons and daughters.

Gallardo tells me that many Delta residents are too poor to own a computer or get a wired Internet connection, even if their town has a broadband carrier. Smartphones are fairly pervasive, but so are limited data plans, which put a ceiling on their functionality. And besides, Gallardo asks, have you ever tried, say, filling out a job application on your phone? A few months ago, I pulled over at a McDonalds in the Delta town of Marks to use the restaurant’s Wi-Fi. A fellow customer came up to me to ask what kind of computer I was using. She had never seen a Mac before.

In the small Delta town of Ruleville, the only public space with a strong Wi-Fi connection is the public library, open just two days a week. Sharonda Evans, a 16-year-old student at the local high school, tells me that she’s one of the lucky ones in her town: Her family pays $50 a month for a slow connection. “Those who live outside the center of town can’t get Internet access, even if they can afford it,” she says. And as far as I can tell, there are no plans in the works to bring broadband to Ruleville.