Australia's broadband fail

Australia comes right at the top of some pretty good lists.

Last year, the UN named Australia as the country with the second best quality of life, just behind Norway.

Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide were all in The Economist's top ten of most liveable cities in 2010. And it's also the second best place in the world to start a new business, according to the World Bank.

But there is one area where Australia is failing to make the top ten: broadband speed.

Not only does Australia rank far behind the eastern European countries of the Republic of Moldova and Estonia, it's even outranked by New Zealand.

But over the last few years, average Australian broadband speeds have remained stuck below 8,000kbps while the emerging economies of Lithuania and Latvia have zoomed ahead.

Broadband speeds may not seem much to boast about compared to economic prosperity and awesome beaches.

However, both the World Bank and the OECD back broadband investment as a way of encouraging economic growth. Broadband enables new business models, new inventions, new ways of working, and improved good and services.

Australia appears especially slow when compared with its Asian neighbours. Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, which register peak download speeds of over 30Mbps.

South Korea is often used as a case study on how super-fast, ubiquitous internet can transform society and the economy. A decade ago, South Korea's government realised the country could not compete on manufacturing alone, and decided to focus on building a digital economy instead.

Since then, the country has developed a booming online gaming industry and attracted business from international firms keen to exploit the technology. South Korea has even higher ambitions and aims for 1Gbps broadband by 2012.

If Australia wants to maintain its competitive edge in the global digital economy, moving up the broadband speed rankings should be an important goal.