Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai has long lambasted net neutrality, the concept of government-regulated equal access to fast internet service by all websites and content providers. Above, Pai was photographed at an FCC net neutrality hearing in Washington, Feb. 26, 2015. Reuters

Telecommunication companies have long lobbied against the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 rules on net neutrality, which classified the internet as a public utility rather than a platform on which websites or companies can pay for faster service. Lately, so have civil rights groups.

In a joint statement released Feb. 7 and first reported by the Intercept Monday, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, along with other groups, urged the FCC to allow the Republican-dominated Congress to decide the issue.

The “statutory approach,” as the letter put it, “avoids the jurisdictional and classification problems that plagued the last FCC.” The agency, now headed by vocal net neutrality critic Ajit Pai — who was selected by President Donald Trump in January and does not need Senate confirmation since he previously was confirmed as a commissioner — should focus on a goal of “improvement, deployment and adoption of the high-speed networks that all Americans deserve,” the groups said.

Many of the groups supporting Pai’s anti-net neutrality bent receive donations from telecom giants, both directly and indirectly. A 2013 investigation by Center for Public Integrity, for example, found that AT&T Inc., CBS Corp., Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable and Verizon Communications, where Pai once worked as an attorney, all had contributed thousands to the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, which represents the minority groups in telecommunications-related legal cases and whose president and CEO was included in the Feb. 7 statement.

The civil rights groups have benefited individually as well. The Los Angeles Times found in 2010 AT&T gave $1.8 billion over nine years to the National Urban League, the NAACP and a Latin American group that didn't sign the recent statement, and that Comcast had given more than $5 million to the National Urban League.

More recently, Asian Americans Advancing Justice listed AT&T, Verizon and Comcast among members of its corporate alliance.” The NAACP cited AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner as sponsors of its annual scholarship program and AT&T as a sponsor of its annual Image Awards. Among the National Urban League’s 2017 Save Our Cities Conference sponsors were AT&T, Comcast and Charter Communications.