The Biden infrastructure plan faces a tough path in Congress. Republicans have pushed back on the cost. They even argue about definitions of broadband. Republicans balk at some proposals to require faster broadband standards — such as 25 megabits for downloads and as much as 25 megabits for uploads, which they say is a bar too high for providers in rural areas. Those speeds would allow multiple family members to be on videoconferencing, for example.

“I believe that this would make it harder to serve those communities that don’t have broadband today,” Michael O’Rielly, a former F.C.C. commissioner, told the House commerce committee last month.

Educators lobbied Congress throughout the pandemic to extend broadband in the country. When little relief was in sight, some took matters into their own hands.

Last April and through the summer, administrators at the Brockton School District in Massachusetts bought more than 4,000 hot spots with their own funding and a federal loan. They were able to reduce the percentage of students without high-speed internet or a device to about 5 to 10 percent, from about 30 percent.

Superintendent Mike Thomas said the district was starting to go back to classrooms and would most likely be fully in person by the fall. But he plans to retain many aspects of distance learning, he said, particularly after-school tutoring.

In Baltimore, where an estimated 40 percent of households lack high-speed internet, students and community activists fought to raise awareness of their circumstances. Ms. Vasquez and Ms. Lewi held protests against Comcast, the dominant provider, for better speeds and lower costs for its much-publicized low-income program. Their group, Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society, also lobbied the Maryland legislature and the city to put a priority on affordable broadband for low-income households.

“We didn’t have options, and we deserved better,” Ms. Vasquez said.

Adam Bouhmad and some community activists began to install antenna “mesh” networks tapping into the hot spots of closed Baltimore schools to connect surrounding homes. Through a jury-rigged system of antennas and routers, Mr. Bouhmad’s group, Waves, got cheap or free internet service to 120 low-income families.

Mr. Biden’s promise to support alternative broadband providers could include projects like the one led by Mr. Bouhmad, who said the past year had shown how scant broadband options had left residents in Baltimore in the lurch.

“Investment upfront to build out infrastructure and support internet providers is fantastic,” Mr. Bouhmad said. He added that residents in places like Baltimore would continue to need federal subsidies and that the administration should focus on the costs of broadband as a major hurdle.

“Availability doesn’t equal accessibility in terms of price and user experience,” he said.

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