In a report published on Thursday by the World Economic Forum and the French business school INSEAD, Sweden placed first in a global ranking of countries in terms of their readiness for tech business, compared with a second place ranking in 2009. The U.S. fell to fifth place, down from its third place rank in the study last year.
The WEF's report measured "network readiness" based on dozens of criteria pulled together from hard data and surveys; the criteria included the availability of venture capital, broadband adoption, intellectual property protection and science and math education. And while the U.S. received high honors in some areas-first, for instance, in research collaboration between businesses and universities and third in number of patents per capita-it ranked 48th in science and math education, 53rd in the burden of government regulation and 23rd in Internet bandwidth.
Those less-than-stellar rankings come as the U.S. undertakes a major push to expand broadband Internet access. Earlier this month the Federal Communications Commission committed to a plan aimed at bringing broadband to 100 million Americans who don't currently have it. The federal government is still doling out the $7.2 billion in grants and loans that President Obama committed to broadband expansion as part of his $787 billion stimulus package. And cities around the country are vying to become Google's test bed for blazing fast one gigabit-per-second broadband trials it announced last month.
But Soumitra Dutta, a professor at INSEAD and one of the report's authors, says his results show that broadband alone won't put the U.S. back on top. "You can bring fast broadband to everyone in the country, but without the education to use it, it won't mean much," he says.
Denmark, Switzerland and Singapore, the other three countries that topped the U.S., all ranked higher in education and the lack of government regulation than America. And some outranked the U.S not only in those categories but also in some areas that would seem to be American strong suits, including venture capital availability, where the U.S. placed seventh and availability of scientists and engineers, where the U.S. ranked fifth.
But Rob Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, calls those fine-grained results into question. Many of the study's categories, he pointed out, are based on surveys of executives rather than statistical data, and so are influenced by their respondents' biases. It's possible, for instance, that Americans are more skeptical about their school system and government than Scandivanians are of theirs.
Still, Atkinson argues with the rationale behind the WEF's placement more than the overall findings. If anything, he says, the U.S. should have ended up two or three spots lower than its fifth place rank. "In many of these areas, America still hasn't caught up with reality," he says.Text and images: Copyright Forbes.com Any unauthorised reproduction is prohibited.