The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is close to granting AT&T Inc approval for its $2.35 billion purchase of rural U.S. wireless licenses from rival Verizon Communications Inc affiliate Verizon Wireless, the Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said on Thursday that his company expects to close the deal in the first half of the year, in line with its previously announced expectations.

Verizon Wireless was required to sell off those properties as a condition for getting regulatory approval for its purchase of Alltel in January 2009 -- a merger that created the biggest wireless provider in the United States, surpassing AT&T in terms of subscribers.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated an order last week, asking four other members of the commission to approve the deal that is likely to be voted upon in the coming weeks, the paper said.

The FCC could not be immediately reached for comment by Reuters.

Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc.

(Reporting by Antonita Madonna Devotta in Bangalore; Editing by Valerie Lee and Gerald E. McCormick)