In the early 1990s–before Internet was ubiquitous–I remember a well-connected VHF packet remailer network that was nearly on par with the old Fidonet dial up network.
Unfortunately while many hams played with packet 15 years ago, the complex mailbox routing networks are now mostly replaced by the Internet. I don’t expect any data network resembling the Internet to evolve if the grid goes down. This is not to say that local networks using sound card data modems on CB or FRS radio or with Wi-Fi gear might not spring up, but it would be a low priority in both electricity and time.
HF amateur radio and shortwave radio will be the way to get your world news if the grid goes down. Buy a radio that will receive upper and lower sideband (USB/LSB) or you will be limited to megawatt commercial AM stations. (SSB is used by the power poor.) Set up a proper antenna length for the band you are listening to, an antenna tuner is not good enough. Even if people do not want to obtain their amateur licence it is advisable that they obtain PSK-31 sound card software and a connector cable to decode low power PSK data signals. PSK-31is nearly as good as Morse code for punching through noise, much better than voice mode. For those operating out of a backpack look at this PSK terminal device. No laptop needed!
Amateur satellite (AmSat) is fun and a great way to talk worldwide without needing HF gear but if the grid ever fully went down I would expect satellite tracking stations to lose control of their satellites as the employees are detained protecting their families. Most AmSat gear is piggybacked on commercial satellites and is powered from the main buss, amateur controllers have no way to maintain the main systems on the host satellite.
Look a few months back in the SurvivalBlog archives for the article on Earth Moon Earth (EME or “moon bounce”) propagation for an exotic and often difficult alternative to HF radio.
My plug for getting your license in the United State is: There is no longer a Morse Code test requirement! Anyone can memorize the question pool and easily pass the tech and general
exams now, what possible reason could any survivor not want to get licensed and on the air.
Worried about expensive gear? while I put down the tuna can transmitter for use as a survival set, it is a great way for a family to build a first transmitter
But if you want an actual usable Morse-only radio transceiver with even minimal long range survival utility, but easy and small enough for every member of the family to build and hide in a Tic-Tac breath mints box for under be $10 the Pixie takes the prize. If you search the net there are several sources for the pixie kit. – David in Israel