Maine’s Public Advocate says his office is hearing more complaints about FairPoint’s response to service calls amid a strike against the telephone company by workers. He is most concerned about a growing number of complaints about long wait times for workers to fix problems.

“There have been unacceptable delays,” said Timothy Schneider, who noted that some tools regulators had used to punish companies that failed to improve service disappeared with deregulation.

Schneider said that when his office met with company officials before 1,700 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont struck in October, he was assured that FairPoint was ready to deal with workers walking off the job.

“We were told that they had the workforce to maintain services without any issues,” he said.

Schneider said that the initial complaints after the strike dealt with the difficulty of calling FairPoint to report a problem. Some customers, he said, reported long hold times, followed by their calls being dropped.

Lately, he said, the complaints his office has received focus on how it takes days to get FairPoint to send workers to fix problems, particularly after a snowstorm.

“Maine customers are pretty forgiving,” he said, “but not after not having service for three or four days.”

A message seeking comment from a FairPoint spokeswoman was not returned Friday night.

Richard Wilson, who operates Pussy’s Port O’ Call, a cat boarding service in Northport, said he lost his FairPoint phone service on Nov. 2, when a snowstorm struck northern Maine.

Wilson said he waited until the next day to report the problem to the company and was told he would have to wait six days before the company could get someone out to fix his phone.

“I said, ‘This is a business, I can’t go that length of time without a phone,'” Wilson said. He said he called every day after that, seeking to have his service call moved up, but ended up without service for 17 days.

Wilson eventually switched to another phone company and has a long message on his answering machine, apologizing to his customers and explaining that FairPoint wasn’t responsive to his calls for service.

Patricia Wasserman, who runs Cornerstone Medical Communications in Cape Elizabeth, said she lost two of the three lines her business uses, but FairPoint has told her they don’t know when they’ll be able to send someone to fix the problem.

“We’re a communications business, so that’s essential,” she said. “It’s one of our busiest times of the year, and we’re used to reliable land line service.”

Schneider said one of the most egregious cases he heard of was on Monhegan Island, where a telephone pole with FairPoint lines on it fell down in November. The workers FairPoint sent out couldn’t fix the pole, Schneider said, so they tossed some plywood across the lines – which still worked – so drivers on the island’s only road could continue across them.

Schneider said that meant plows had to go around the downed lines when it snowed, leaving a stretch in front of the fire station unplowed.

Schneider, who said he isn’t taking sides in the labor dispute, said there’s little his office can do. His staff relays complaints to FairPoint, he said, but the company isn’t obligated to act any faster on reports they pass on than on other calls for customer service.

He said utilities used to be automatically fined when service complaints crossed a threshold, but that’s no longer the case.

Schneider also said that FairPoint is no longer obligated to report complaint statistics, even though it is keeping track of them. However, when the information is shared with state officials at regular meetings, Schneider said, a single sheet of paper is passed around to those at the meeting and FairPoint officials then collect it and take it with them.

“This is not a labor issue,” Schneider said. “This is a customer service issue and FairPoint needs to provide it.”