Rep. Michael Capuano has been an outspoken advocate of protecting net neutrality and a forceful critic of Republican efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations by the Federal Communications Commission.
So why did the Somerville Democrat’s wife file a comment in support of the FCC’s controversial move last month to repeal net neutrality rules?
The simple answer: She didn’t.
“I would never have done this and I’m really angry that someone would use my name,” Barbara Capuano told Boston 25 News.
Capuano appears to be among thousands of Massachusetts residents — and millions of residents nationally — who had their identities used to post fake comments on the FCC’s website in support of the agency’s plans to undo the 2015 rules aimed to ensure internet service providers treat online content equally.
Just as TV host John Oliver has repeatedly flooded the FCC’s website with public comments in support of the recently implemented rules, the agency was hit with another wave in recent months. But this time, the wave was in favor of repealing the rules — and many appear fraudulent.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Wednesday that as many as 2 million comments misused the identities of real Americans. And according to a Pew Research Center analysis last month, 57 percent of the more than 21.7 million comments received by the FCC during the public comment period of April 27 to August 30 included false or misleading personal information, among a number of other irregularities.
And Barbara Capuano appears to be one of them. Two identical comments were attributed to the congressman’s wife, one on August 4 and another six days later. And according to Pew, the language in the comments attributed to Capuano was posted verbatim nearly 1.3 million times on the FCC’s website:
Before leaving office, the Obama Administration rammed through a massive scheme that gave the federal government broad regulatory control over the internet. That misguided policy decision is threatening innovation and hurting broadband investment in one of the largest and most important sectors of the U.S. economy. I support the Federal Communications Commissions decision to roll back Title II and allow for free market principles to guide our digital economy.
According to Boston 25, the exact same comment was filed 14,000 times by people purportedly from Massachusetts. It’s unclear how many of the 470,00 comments attributed to Bay Staters were forged. Capuano reportedly sent the FCC a letter Monday demanding an investigation.
“I have never had a single constituent tell me that it was a good idea to get rid of net neutrality,” he told Boston 25.
Schneiderman’s office has set up a website for people to search to see if their identities were also used to make fake comments. The New York attorney general is also calling for the FCC to delay their scheduled vote Thursday officially repeal the rules.
“Moving forward with this vote would make a mockery of our public comment process and reward those who perpetrated this fraud to advance their own hidden agenda,” he said. “The FCC must postpone this vote and work with us to get to the bottom of what happened.”
In a separate letter Wednesday to the FCC, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and 17 other state attorneys general echoed Schneiderman’s calls.
There may be more than 1 MILLION fake comments submitted to the @FCC. Our democratic process may have been undermined.
— Maura Healey (@MassAGO) December 13, 2017