Atlantic Tele-Network has been quite quiet since it purchased certain Alltel Wireless network assets that Verizon was forced to sell as a condition of its Alltel acquisition. And although that side of ATN’s business continues to keep a low profile, the company has been more forthcoming about developments related to its broadband stimulus winnings, which include a total of three awards.

The latest development on that side is the company’s announcement today that its Commnet Wireless subsidiary has formed a joint venture with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to be called NTUA Wireless LLC to construct and operate 3G and 4G wireless networks in tribal areas of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Commnet and the NTUA together filed for and won broadband stimulus funding totaling $32.1 million to build the network. The award was made in the form of a grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the first round of the broadband stimulus program. In addition, the partners plan to put up additional funding of approximately $14 million.

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About two-thirds of network construction costs will go toward upgrading an existing fiber network so that it can support higher data rates, ATN President and CEO Michael Prior said in an interview. The wireless network will use spectrum licensed to Commnet, which already operates a wireless roaming network throughout rural areas of the U.S., with a heavy concentration in the Southwest.

“We were able to build the network at lower cost because we already had some infrastructure,” Prior said. For example, he said, the company expects to be able to backhaul traffic to “switches and sites where we have equipment and power.”

NTUA Wireless plans to seek eligible telecommunications carrier status so that it can participate in the Universal Service Lifeline program, which pays up to $10 a month toward the cost of voice service for low-income users. Prior said he believes participation in the program could help boost broadband adoption rates in the Navajo Nation.

“If the policy goal is to make broadband more accessible in areas with higher unemployment and lower income levels, that’s often a key part of it,” he said.

The other two stimulus projects for which ATN won funding include an award for $39.7 million to the company’s ION subsidiary for a fiber network in the state of New York, and $33.6 million to another subsidiary, Sovernet Communications, for a 773-mile fiber optic network in Vermont.

Asked whether ATN might be involved in any other stimulus projects by, for example, bidding to handle network construction (as Cox Communications did recently in Rhode Island) Prior said, “If we already have relations and somebody needs a partner to get a deal done, we’re not shy about welcoming partnerships.”

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