I'm wondering about ways to effectively disable all long range communications planet wide. I've looked into nuclear/emp for disabling sats, but what about other forms of long range comms? Doesn't have to be currently within technological reach.

The flipside of the question is then, if all comms were disabled as such, could somebody invent a new medium to long range comms to counter this?

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    $\begingroup$ Most long distance comms happen through fiber optics cables; to disable those you must physically break them; most countries would consider this an act of war. Long wave radio and is pretty much impossible to disable. To disable short wave radio you need to change the very nature of our atmosphere, which might have rather serious side effects. Not to mention that ham radio operators do tricks like using the Moon as a passive reflector to establish intercontinental links... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! When you have a moment, please take our tour and visit our help center to learn more about us. Another proble is broadcast signals work line-of-sight, meaning what you do here to disrupt the signals must also be done elsewhere. And the power is non-trivial, but let's ignore that. A lot of satelites would take care of RF, but @AlexP's right about the fiber optics. And there's a lot of them. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP You should have posted your comment as an answer. I hope you do so. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 4:51

1 Answer 1


Remove Earth's atmosphere

Noting that the OP specified effective rather than efficient ways, kill all the messengers. It's the only way to be sure.

Let us have a look at some of the ways to communicate over distance (not an exhaustive list):

  • Line of sight electromagnetic (EM) signals
  • Satellite-bounced EM signals
  • Landline signals
  • Atmosphere-bounced EM signals
  • Ground station-relayed EM signals
  • Ground wave vibrations
  • Couriers

Lots of the above are vulnerable to artificially created EMP or the natural equivalent, although not in the way you might think for satellites. (High altitude EMPs are designed to affect equipment over a wide area on the ground below through atmospheric interactions, it does not affect satellites themselves as much.) However, as this xkcd question examined, the bandwidth of a courier carrying a shoebox full of memory sticks is massive, albeit with very high ping times.

So the short answer is - you can attempt to disable all of the terminal equipment, jam the signals, cut the landlines etc, but unless you can also prevent the couriers taking the message through manually there is no way to prevent the mail getting through.

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    $\begingroup$ Related to the final paragraph: for a very, very, very, very, very, very long time, physically carrying messages was the only way to communicate any complex message over any considerable distance. Messages could sometimes be carried in the brains of humans, but it all still involved people travelling from point A to point B to deliver a message from someone at A to someone at B. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for that detailed answer, and to @AlexP above. The fibre optics are problematic then. The courier option is a good response to all of the others being taken out though and as Michael said a reversion to a much used communication option from the past. $\endgroup$
    – Leon Furze
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 0:55

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