- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

The agency that mails coupons for digital TV converter boxes expects to eliminate its waiting list in 2½ weeks, an official said.

Helped by $650 million from the economic stimulus package, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has started to mail coupons to the 2.3 million households on the waiting list, said Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, associate administrator of the Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications.

The fund that pays for the $40 coupons reached its spending limit in early January. The NTIA was still able to mail coupons, but only as old ones expired, 90 days after being issued.

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The NTIA now expects to change its rules so that people who received coupons earlier, but let them expire, can apply for new ones, Ms. McGuire-Rivera said.

Coupons are now being mailed “first class,” Ms. McGuire-Rivera added. The government had been criticized for mailing the coupons “standard mail,” which can take weeks.

The converter boxes allow older, generally non-flat TVs to receive new digital broadcast signals.

U.S. full-power TV stations were scheduled to turn off their analog signals Feb. 17, but because of the coupon backlog, the deadline was extended to June 12. About a quarter of stations shut down on or around Feb. 17 anyway, but most of them are in small markets.

Microsoft search: What’s in a name like Kumo?

Microsoft Corp. has said marketing teams were hard at work fixing the company’s Web search image. As a brand, Live Search wasn’t working.

But Kumo? What?

Microsoft’s search team posted a screen shot of a redesigned search site, called Kumo, on its blog last week. A leaked memo from the team’s technical leader, Satya Nadella, described Kumo.com as a test program that can only be accessed from computers on Microsoft’s network. The company confirmed the memo’s authenticity after it appeared on CNET News.

Online dictionaries reveal kumo to mean “spider” or “cloud” in Japanese (but also the Swedish word for a Finnish town). Kumo.com, as depicted in the screen shot, offers few hints as to the definition Microsoft has in mind.

The Kumo logo, which Microsoft has not confirmed as its final choice, is blue, lowercase and not immediately recognizable as a Microsoft brand. The screen-shot version does provide links to MSN and Windows Live, though.

Kumo appears to set itself apart from today’s Live Search by giving Web surfers clearer clues about the kinds of results that exist. A search for a country music star yields results separated into such categories as Web, songs, lyrics, music and biography. Buttons on the left let users quickly pick just one of those categories to peruse.

Microsoft has struggled for years to compete with Google Inc., the leader in Web search traffic and related advertising revenue. Despite its best efforts, which include a failed attempt to buy the No. 2 Yahoo Inc. and to engineer an improved search site of its own, Microsoft has remained firmly stuck in third place.

Matt Rosoff, an analyst for the independent research group Directions on Microsoft, said Kumo is a better name than Live.

“I think Live meant too many things,” he said. “At least Kumo is weird.”

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