"We thought Title II had the potential to sort of bring back "¦ some of the regressive policies that were still applied to Title II that would rewind the clock of progress for the communities we serve," said Nicol Turner-Lee, MMTC's vice president and top researcher.
Not long ago, this stance was largely uncontested within the civil rights movement. In 2010, when the FCC first voted on net neutrality, civil rights groups were almost united against strict regulations, says Michael Scurato, policy director at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a civil rights group that supports the new Title II rules. "That helped create a toxic and problematic environment for folks advocating for Title II," Scurato said.
But since 2010, Scurato's group and others focused on breaking up the perception of an anti-Title II consensus in the civil rights community. "We've organized to make sure that at the very least, the civil rights and social-justice and racial-justice community is not monolithic on the issue," Scurato said. He wanted to make sure that if "key decision-makers were to step out and advocate for this approach, they wouldn't get hit in the head," he said.
(RELATED: Can Net Neutrality Survive the Impending Onslaught of Lawsuits?)
Indeed, a coalition of civil rights organizations emerged that argued strongly for Title II regulations ahead of the FCC's February vote. Those groups say that implementing restrictive regulations is the only way to prevent large Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon, who aren't up against much competition, from underserving poor and minority communities.
"Anything short of Title II allows for discrimination online," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, an online civil rights group and advocacy organization. "It's a sad day and age when that's what some of our biggest civil rights groups are advocating."
Following the Money?
Some groups say their rivals are bought and paid for by corporations that have long sought to sunder restrictive net-neutrality rules. According to Robinson, groups like MMTC were co-opted by large telecom companies.
"We watched these big corporations be able to move their messages through civil rights organizations," Robinson said. "Sometimes folks who should be on our side are on the wrong side," he added.
MMTC has a history of accepting corporate telecom money. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the nonprofit received hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2011 from such telecom giants as CBS, iHeartMedia (then known as Clear Channel Communications), News Corp., and the National Association of Broadcasters.
At the time, the group was criticized for supporting a 2013 FCC proposal to approve more media mergers. The proposal had previously hit opposition from critics who said it would harm minority communities. The FCC withdrew the proposal later that year.