New federal legislation is looking to modernize an aging government assistance program aimed at telephones by turning it into a way for low-income consumers to access broadband internet. The Broadband Adoption Act of 2013 was introduced to the House of Representatives yesterday and would update Lifeline, an FCC-run program that offers subsidized phone service to citizens near the poverty line or enrolled in select government programs such as Medicaid. Under the new legislation, Lifeline would offer the option between discounted telephone, mobile, and internet services. The bill is supported by outgoing FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and was introduced by three Democratic representatives of California, Doris Matsui, Henry Waxman, and Anna Eshoo.

The legislation expands on the FCC's efforts to bring broadband to 100 million US homes by 2020. Last year, the organization implemented a pilot program that aimed to modernize Lifeline, and this legislation would expedite that process by effectively mandating the program. The goal is to simultaneously overhaul Lifeline's usefulness and cut down on waste and abuse within the program.

100 million Americans still don't have broadband internet at home

Representative Matsui attempted and failed to pass similar legislation in 2011, but the need for internet access is just as evident today: the FCC has estimated that broadband internet service is still absent in more than half of all households making below $30,000 annually. Funding for the Lifeline program comes from the Universal Service Fund, a fee that the federal government collects from telephone companies but is often passed onto consumers' phone bills. Though the costs could be a hurdle, the representatives are giving the legislation every shot of passing by changing as little of the status quo as possible: a broadband subsidy would become an option — not an addition that would increase costs — and measures would be put in place to ensure that the system isn't abused.