I am interested in the actual physical steps such a regime would take, e.g. cutting the submarine telecommunications cables. How might such a regime destroy the mobile phone network? What would it need to do to put communications satellites out of action? What else would it need to do?

Does it need to destroy local infrastructure (e.g. phone masts & internet servers) as well, or can it leave all that to rust once the big stuff is taken out?

Assume the regime controls the whole world with only scattered resistance. It is quite willing to use modern technology itself while in the process of transition. While tyrannical, the regime is not genocidal and would seek to minimize the suffering this forced regression would involve.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Rudimentary mobile telephone systems and transatlantic phone systems, have been in place since the mid-twentieth century. In the 60's (still arguably mid-twentieth century) communication satellites and fiber optic communication systems were in place. What communication systems are you actually trying to eliminate? $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ I had thought of the question as what actions would be necessary to reach the regime's desired end-state of a world in which no large groups of people could get together to organise a significant rebellion, rather than in terms of what specific communications systems would need to be destroyed. Perhaps I should slightly move back my "mid-twentieth century" to a World War II level. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ You only need to look at the incredible list of resistance movements during World War II to see that communication technology at that time was entirely sufficient to organize. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ Well, the WWII Resistance did have the advantage of help from countries that were still free, such as parachute drops of short-wave radios and morse code sending kit, and indeed of human operators. That help is unavailable to the resistance in my scenario. Despite the advantage of world wide control I don't wish to posit that the regime will succeed in quashing all resistance forever, but I do assume it will go about trying to as intelligently as possible, hence my question. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ You'd have to improve the postal service, for one thing... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 19:41

7 Answers 7


Jam the hell out of all frequencies. Install nuclear power plants and connect those to large transmitters targetting all commonly used communication frequencies. Your government will usually not cut submarine cables, instead, it will secure all large scale communication devices to itself. Submarine cables are easy to control access to due to their know and imovable physical location. Wireless communication on the other hand, must be dealt with using jammers. High powered high tech jammers can block even GPS signals. Its incredible how modern tech is sensitive to intentional jamming. Take 2.4GHz WiFi as example. If you put as little as 1W of power in a omnidirecional antenna you can block almost all channels in a large radius. 802.11abn protocols cannot distinguish jamming from real channel use, so they back-off from transmitting.

  • $\begingroup$ Adding that that: pockets of tough pro-comms resistance could be dealt with by a fusion bomb detonated high in the stratosphere. Very little fallout, but the EM waves generated from the bomb would immediately fry their equipment. Unless they took a lead out of whoever designed the MiG, and made everything out of physical valves... $\endgroup$
    – drunkBrain
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ @drunkBrain, I don't think you're supposed to destroy all electronic equipment, just the comm stuff. Also, most amature radio enthusiasts don't leave their antennas plugged in when not in use, and quite a number of them can rebuild their equipment from scratch. $\endgroup$
    – alessandro
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @zeeman, I understand that, I was just thinking about something along the lines of a military group operating against said repressive government. Militant groups can't afford to turn off their links with satellites and jets, and once these (very expensive) pieces of equipment have been destroyed, it's difficult to manufacture it. EDIT: Changed 'military groups' to militant groups, after reading OP's latest comment. $\endgroup$
    – drunkBrain
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 11:02

I think it would be a lot easier than you expect. And a lot less destructive. Just ban it.

Mobile phone networks and the internet are very large scale operations. If the regime is world wide and has considerable might, all it has to do is ban them. Ban the manufacture and possession of cell phones. Have the towers taken down. Shut down the centers that control the satellites. Shut down the data centers that power the internet (you don't have a DSL connection if the phone company's router is unplugged). Ban the manufacture of modern computers (or restrict who can buy them). You can't slap together an Intel i7 chip in a garage, you need a specialized fabrication plant to create them. Prevent large scale production and you'll greatly hamper the technology.

Would there be resistance? Sure. But most people will not be willing to risk jail or worse by keeping local cell phone service running.

The most interesting thing to me would then be how the resistance manages to use un-confiscated equipment to facilitate communications without being detected. What can you do with a thousand cheap wifi routers? How do you mask their use?

  • $\begingroup$ I particularly like the idea of controlling at the point of manufacture rather than use. I had been thinking along those lines in a vague way but you have clarified it a lot. GrandmasterB, if you would like to elaborate on what you can do with a thousand cheap wifi routers, please do! One of the questions I plan to put to this forum in the future is how such a regime could ever be overthrown. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ The only way to avoid being detected is to avoid using any transmitters for any prolonged time. Current tech allows effective pinpointing of transmitters within a minute or even seconds and it's not particularly complex - it's currently high cost because the main practical customer is military who doesn't need that much of them and isn't sensitive to prices; but if a gov't really wanted to, there are no resource constraints why they couldn't put the required gear and antennas on every truck that their police has. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 20:27

I wonder why they would want to "destroy" the communications infrastructure when it would be much more efficient to use many of the methods leaked by Edward Snowdon to simply monitor communications and then take action against the people or groups who represent some sort of threat?

A cruder example would be the "Great Firewall of China", which seeks to block most internet traffic from outside of China from reaching unauthorized (i.e. anyone not in government or military intelligence) users. Iran is also attempting to do something similar by creating an isolated "internet" which only serves those inside Iranian territory.

Even unregulated Internet does not have to be an issue for a ruthless enough regime. During the Arab Spring, Egyptian Police started inhabiting chat rooms and infiltrating social media groups; often directing groups of protesters to meet at a predesignated time and location, where (surprise) the police riot squad was already assembled. While Snowdon did not reveal any examples of how the American or Western governments use their powers, it is probably more subtle, for example targeting the tax agencies to perform hostile audits on perceived political opponents, or using regulatory and legal harassment to hobble the ability of people to accomplish their goals.

  • $\begingroup$ The reason in-story for the top baddies wanting to destroy rather than utilise modern internet is that they are magic users and would rather not have the muggles able to compete with them by the use of science. The reason $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I posted too early by accident. The reason I as a writer want this scenario is that I lack the technical knowledge to write a convincing story of surveillance and countermeasures by the use of modern technology. Also I find it a less dramatic situation than a world of old fashioned cloak-and-dagger work. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ Now that is clear, then of course the answer will be different. OTOH, if you specified magic in the question, then the bad guys could simply use magic to scramble the various protocols used by machines and systems to recognize each other and pass data (particularly where there is a change in medium i.e. where fibre optic cables feed onto microwave towers). Result; data cannot travel across systems, so your cell phones would only work (maybe) as short range point to point radios, not make long distance calls or access the internet. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ That is an extremely juicy idea, which along with some of the other comments to my initial question is making me wonder if I should not re-write my original scenario, which had an absolute ban. In an effort to stave off re-writing, I am going to suggest that scrambling protocols might require a level of technical knowledge that magic users would not usually have, they having specialised in magic. There is also an unrelated difficulty specific to my story. But I do love the idea of reducing range. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 5:52

This could be done without destroying infrastructure in a few easy steps:

  1. Drop a lot of malicious software on the net.
  2. Deliberately reduce bandwidth.
    • Slow the pace of networks back to the dial-up era. Remember AOL in the 90's?
  3. Taxes. Make the use of internet, satellite, and cellphones prohibitively expensive.
    • If you were one of the lucky few who could afford to stay online, you would find a dramatically reduced web, most sites and users would drop off overnight.
  4. Set up a large cumbersome bureaucracy to collect communications tax.
    • Those who can afford to pay the prohibitive tax will be less likely to do so if forced to navigate through mountains of deliberately convoluted paperwork.
  5. When citizens complain about steps 1, 2, 3, and 4
    • Blame the malicious software on rebel forces
    • Claim slower connections are due to malicious software
    • Explain that higher taxes are used to remove malicious software and deter further rebel infiltration of networks.
    • Blame bureaucracy on bureaucracy. Sounds circular, I know, but that's bureaucracy for you. Can't fight city hall n' all that...
      • You'd be surprised how many people will just accept that government is inefficient because government is inefficient.
  6. Profit.
  • $\begingroup$ As I commented to Thucydides, the several excellent suggestions I have received for less absolutist ways of suppressing rather than forbidding the internet and other modern communications methods are making me think about revising my initial scenario. However might they not calculate that if they wish to remain on top forever an absolute ban is more stable? AARGH, I see a whole new plotline forming about internal dissension between the hard and soft factions of the ruling party.... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Lostinfrance Many hard regimes try to maintain a soft public face... If it makes it easier make step 7 a total ban. As in "In our efforts to protect you, our most beloved citizens, we have decided to ban digital communications..." $\endgroup$
    – apaul
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 12:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Brilliant breakdown, apaul. In the end, step 7 meets less resistance if most people have been weaned away from digital comm: you don't kick about losing what you don't have, and now those rich snots don't have it either. $\endgroup$
    – Zither13
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 12:45

In the 1700s, revolutions were organized with "Committees of Correspondence." So it doesn't take cell phones, just paper and ink.

Transoceanic cables are 1800's.

They don't need to destroy everything, just sequester it to their own use.

Cell phone service is erratic enough now that they could make plausible a collapse of the systems through overload. Turn in your cell phone for a reliable landline. Have medical studies show that those rooftop repeaters are responsible for the increase in childhood disorders like autism and ADHD. Save our children! Ban cell phones! Tear out those repeaters!

They will have to restore landlines, preferably as pre-multi-freqing systems where operators control long distance. The return of telegraphs and codes?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It is true that the American and French revolutions were victorious despite being organized by letter but one must consider that those they were rebelling against were similarly limited. As mentioned elsewhere, I am positing that the suppressing regime can use magic, giving it a big advantage. Not that that would stop them from making intelligent use of scary medical studies proving that all these microwaves flying about cause cancer. I am also thinking of newspaper editorials hailing the way that destroying the internet will "create jobs", particularly in the newspaper industry. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ Also that those revolutions were not against the One World Government: USA had help from France; France had -- the morale advantage of standing off against the other governments? Point being, it doesn't take technology. $\endgroup$
    – Zither13
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 12:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And I bet the newspapers would back a reversion to paper. Destroying the internet reduces Amazon to sending out catalogs, gets rid of internet porn and drug-dealing and pimping, solves the problem of local entities not being able to tax internet sales ... you can hit the special interests of so many small groups with gripes against the web that collectively it can seem like a majority declaring that unlimited internet access was a huge social mistake. I'm looking forward to seeing this world! $\endgroup$
    – Zither13
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 12:43

Getting rid of public communications infrastructure would be quite easy. Just use your might to get rid of the ISPs and force the telcos to only use landline phones and, other than the phones, you basically don't have any modern communications systems your average joe can use anymore. Well, other than CB radio, that started in 1945, but anyway...

The challenge would be in removing HAM and CB radio operators with modern equipment. I don't think you can actually do that. I don't know of anyway you can detect the type of equipment somebody is transmitting with, other then that tube amplifiers and solid state amps have different overdrive/clipping characteristics, but I don't know if that would ever really be detectable during normal operations.

Actually, reading your question again, it seems like you didn't consider that there are people who privately own transmitters and communicate with each other with them, and did so even in the mid 20th, or even late 19th century.

For a scattered resistance, using mid 20th century radio tech would be just fine. The biggest changes in modern communications technology have been bandwidth and carrying capacity and for coordinating a resistance you don't need much of either of these things.

There really is no effective way to prevent electronic communications though. The bar to entry of radio is really just money. There's no special factory or manufacturing technique you need, just give your average Electrical Engineering grad $5000 and they can make you a high power transmitter from off the shelf components.

It would be easy to find somebody who was transmitting (though their might be some stenographic techniques you could use to hide in background noise or authorized communications), but if they need to send one or two messages, that might be enough and with cryptography you wouldn't even know what they were saying.


First, if it has an army, it can break down cell phone towers. If it is really a word power, it has a space program. It can destroy communication satellites.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you know what would be the best way to destroy satellites - via sending up astronauts, or via laser beams for instance? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Lostinfrance, look at the altitude of comms. satellites, and look for missiles that can fly that high. $\endgroup$
    – user6511
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 23:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Lostinfrance easy way, just send a shutdown command to them. Slightly harder way, use anti-satellite missiles. They lock on to the satellite, launch up out of the atmosphere and explode into a cloud of shrapnel, like a shotgun shell. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ Most comm sats are way higher up than the reach of anti-satellite weapons. $\endgroup$
    – NERVA
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 5:52
  • $\begingroup$ Oskar, I'm no expert (lack of expertise being exactly why I was so glad to tap into the expertise of the commenters here), but articles like this one: scientificamerican.com/article/… suggest that even satellites in geostationary orbit might be vulnerable. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 6:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .