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CAPE TOWN, Feb 20 (Reuters) - South Africa's telecoms regulator on Thursday brought forward the start date for planned mobile rates cuts by a month, saying it didn't need two months to prepare for a legal challenge from operator MTN Group .
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in January announced plans to halve the rates mobile operators can charge each other to use their networks, a move expected to hit revenues at dominant players MTN and Vodacom .
The regulator says the rate cuts are necessary to spur competition. MTN and Vodacom have objected to the process followed by the regulator and have said the reduced rates would benefit their smaller rivals such as Telkom SA and Cell C, who have not invested as much in their networks.
The cuts were initially due to be introduced on March 1, but the regulator then moved that to May 1 after MTN launched a legal challenge this month.
But ICASA now says it does not need as much time as it originally expected to prepare for the legal fight, and has moved the start date to April 1, representing an overall delay of a month.
"After further consideration and consultation with legal counsel, ICASA's Council has decided that the commencement of the 2014 Regulations need only be delayed by one month," spokesman Paseka Maleka said in a statement.
"It is in the public interest that MTN's application for interim relief be resolved as expeditiously as possible," Maleka said.
MTN Group is asking Johannesburg's South Gauteng High Court to review ICASA's decision to halve the rate to 20 South African cents per minute per call.
The rate would then fall to 10 cents by March 2016. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by David Dolan)